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New Front in Illinois Blue Civil War

You could probably make a pretty good case that Illinois is ground zero of the collapse of the blue model, which is probably why Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has been looking to cut costs anywhere he can. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, Quinn has found, largely due to opposition from Democratic lawmakers and unions.

His latest cost-cutting plan, which would close seven state prisons and send their prisoners to nearby facilities, will also likely face stiff opposition. Quinn argues that the drop in juvenile detention rates will make it possible for the state to cut back on prisons, but unions and Democratic legislators with prisons in their districts have pledged to block the plans. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The union representing about 11,000 prison workers says the adult system is already housing a third more inmates than it was designed for. The union has won a series of court rulings to force the state to halt the closings and negotiate over their effect on working conditions.

Meanwhile, many lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled legislature, concerned about safety and jobs in local districts, have vowed to restore funding for the prisons in a veto session after Thanksgiving. . .

“It’s how the state got into this mess in the first place,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based fiscal watchdog group, noting how difficult it is for the state to say no to interest groups and to implement those decisions when there are “so many opportunities” to hold up the moves.

It’s not clear at this point whether Quinn’s plan is truly a good idea. New programs aimed at keeping juvenile offenders out of the penitentiary system have had some early successes, but will this make up for a slight spike in adult offenders? Nevertheless, it’s good to see governors willing to think creatively about solving seemingly intractable problems.

Unfortunately, for Democratic leaders, this will increasingly mean going against a union base that remains one of the party’s biggest supporters. The ugly split between reformist Democrats and their union allies is only beginning.

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