Those layoffs the governor has planned for Sept. 30 won't necessarily result in any prison workers losing their jobs, so they say.
What's more, officials in the Quinn administration say the move could actually result in the Illinois Department of Corrections finally chipping away at massive overtime costs that have built up in recent years because of understaffing at the agency.
I'm not making this up. At a time when the state faces painful financial problems, the administration's spin is that the first round of up to 2,600 layoffs, set to go into effect Wednesday, really isn't that big of a deal.
During a grinding, day-long hearing on the layoffs last week in Johnson County, an Illinois Department of Corrections beancounter described how prison officials hope it all works:
Five low-security prisons - Vienna, East Moline, Vandalia, Logan and Decatur - will lose both guards and inmates, the latter leaving via a controversial early release program designed to put non-violent offenders back on the streets.
Guards targeted for layoffs will be given the opportunity to move to other prisons where there are vacancies. Special attention will be paid to prisons with high overtime costs, such as the maximum-security Menard Correctional Center in Chester.
In addition, a few hundred new correctional officers - some of whom just finished their cadet training classes in Springfield - will be dispatched to prisons with high vacancy and overtime rates.
The plan, if implemented, will cut overtime costs from $68 million to about $36 million, the official said.
Although the administration contends the governor's layoff plan won't necessarily result in any current prison workers losing their jobs, they do admit it will force some of the guards to have to move to be closer to their new jobs.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union says guards targeted by layoffs also could have to move from a relatively safer minimum-security prison to a more dangerous maximum-security lock-up.
That is one of the reasons AFSCME is fighting the layoff plan in court.
David Vaught, a senior adviser to Gov. Pat Quinn, told the packed courtroom that AFSCME should drop its opposition because, if the layoffs are blocked, other cuts to state programs will have to be made, affecting things like college scholarships and public schools.
"They are very painful cuts that have to be made," Vaught said.
AFSCME officials have reason to be skeptical. Illinois has a checkered history when it comes to governors using the prison system as a way to reduce state spending.
The agency, for example, was directed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to close prisons in Pontiac and Stateville. Both ideas were rejected after it became clear the proposals were ill-conceived.
Judge Todd Lambert is expected to rule in the layoff case Monday. If he breaks with tradition and sides with the Quinn administration, the layoffs are scheduled to take effect Wednesday.
Bet on Madigan
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady of Bloomington has something in common with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Both of them think House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has worn out his welcome in Springfield.
While Blagojevich openly warred with Madigan during his tenure, Brady has a plan he says would end the ability of people like Madigan - and himself, for that matter - to stay in office for decades.
Brady, a state senator, is proposing term limits for state officials. Essentially, he wants to limit lawmakers to 10 years, while statewide officers like the governor would be limited to three terms.
"If we're going to be a citizen Legislature, we've got to turn it back to the people," Brady said.
Blagojevich didn't do so well when it came to his war with Madigan. We'll see how Brady fares.
The selling of Dan Hynes
Comptroller Dan Hynes' bid to move up the political food chain is taking an interesting twist.
It appears his handlers are trying to emphasize that he's a boring wonk.
Here's an excerpt from a recent Hynes fundraising appeal:
"A candidate for governor is talking about a complicated and - let's face it - not particularly exciting issue. A candidate is demonstrating that he has a plan, and the calm, quiet competence to put it into place and get our state back on track."
What's funny about the strategy is that Hynes actually is kind of a boring wonk.
KURT ERICKSON heads the Lee Enterprises Springfield Bureau, which serves The Southern and other Lee newspapers; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-789-0865.