Overflow crowd expected for hearing on IDOT relocation
Nearly three months ago, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration set off a firestorm when it announced a plan to move the traffic safety division of the Illinois Department of Transportation from Springfield to southern Illinois.
Now it’s state lawmakers’ turn.
The legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability considers the pros and cons of the move in a highly anticipated public hearing Thursday night at the state Capitol. The 12-member commission will hear from fellow lawmakers, IDOT officials and employees and many others in several hours of testimony at the hearing, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 212.
“I hope we hear some honesty,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, an opponent of the move and a COGFA member.
The hearing is drawing an overflow crowd that even the largest of the General Assembly’s hearing rooms can’t accommodate. About 350 seats will be placed on the Capitol’s first floor, where video and audio feeds will allow onlookers to follow the action at the hearing upstairs.
COGFA executive director Dan Long said the hearing will be by far the largest the commission has ever conducted under the State Facilities Closure Act, the 2004 law requiring a public hearing before a state facility is closed. The previous record was about 100 people.
Also on hand will be officials from Springfield and Harrisburg, the proposed new home for the division, to talk about what losing or gaining the 100 to 150 workers will mean for their areas.
Commission members already have work to do in sorting through dueling arguments over the proposed move and several reports bolstering those viewpoints.
The Blagojevich administration argues the move will save the state money while boosting the economy of southern Illinois and bringing government closer to a far-flung area of the state.
IDOT produced a study earlier this month estimating Springfield would lose about $9 million, based on about 100 employees moving south to follow their jobs.
Harrisburg would see a roughly $15 million benefit, so the economic boost there would outweigh Springfield’s loss.
COGFA then asked for an analysis based on 136 employees moving to Harrisburg. The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs came up with an estimated $9.3 million hit to Springfield’s economy, but just a $7.4 million benefit for Harrisburg.
“The negative economic effects for Sangamon County far outweigh the positive impacts for the southern Illinois study area,” the report says.
A new analysis from IDOT this week assumes all traffic safety employees will stay in Springfield and not follow their jobs to Harrisburg. Blagojevich has promised affected employees will get similar state jobs with the same pay and benefits if they want to stay here.
Under that scenario, IDOT found southern Illinois would see a $12 million benefit, compared to just a $300,000 loss for Sangamon County.
Springfield-area Realtors released their own analysis Wednesday, predicting an $8 million loss to the local real estate market the first year if 140 traffic safety workers are relocated.
Aside from the regional economic arguments, IDOT contends the state will benefit by ending a costly lease at the IDOT Annex on Dirksen Parkway, where traffic safety division employees now work. The state will buy half of a building in Harrisburg and remodel it, with the latest estimate putting the purchase price and remodeling at $1 million each.
Springfield officials counter that there is more than enough space available here — both privately and in state-owned buildings — for the traffic safety division, and some locations are less expensive than the IDOT Annex.
They say the governor’s plan is barely disguised political retaliation, noting that local lawmakers have regularly criticized Blagojevich and supported a failed effort in the legislature this year to let voters recall the governor and top elected officials.
“I think we’re going to realize that this has nothing to do with efficiencies or saving the state money,” said Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, who will serve as a substitute member of the commission because of a regular member’s absence. “It’s a political ploy to punish the Springfield representatives, because they voted to recall elected officials.”
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or email@example.com.
Several economic-impact studies have reached different conclusions about gains and losses if the Illinois Department of Transportation Division of Traffic Safety moves from Springfield to Harrisburg.
-IDOT estimate (if 100 employees move from Springfield to Harrisburg): Springfield to lose about $9 million; Harrisburg gains $15 million.
-Second IDOT estimate: (if IDOT employees all find similar jobs in Springfield and none move): Southern Illinois would see a $12 million benefit, compared to just a $300,000 loss for Sangamon County.
-Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs estimate: Springfield loss of $9.3 million; Harrisburg benefit of $7.4 million.
-Capital Area Association of Realtors estimate: $8 million cost to local real estate market the first year if 140 workers are relocated.
Sign of the times
By Ryan Keith
SPRINGFIELD --Faced with watching her job headed far south, Joan Egizii is taking her fight to keep the state’s traffic safety division in Springfield to the streets — in big white letters.
Egizii, who works in the division, helped raise money to temporarily put up a simple message on a billboard Wednesday on South Sixth Street, between Travelodge and FitClub. It reads: “We support keeping traffic safety jobs in Springfield.”
Egizii says the message is targeted at people coming into town from southern Illinois for a legislative hearing today about Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposed move of the division to Harrisburg.
She says it’s not intended to stir up hard feelings, but to stress that Springfield doesn’t want to lose the division.
“I expect it to open people’s eyes and let them know we’re not going to take this lying down,” Egizii said Wednesday afternoon.
The message, written in large white letters on a black background, cost $1,000 to be up for about two days, Egizii said.
She urged other sign owners in the capital city to show their support for traffic safety workers with similar messages.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability meets at 5 p.m. Thursday in the state Capitol to consider the pros and cons of the move. An overflow crowd of supporters and critics is expected, with a large contingent on the way up from Harrisburg.
Egizii hopes lawmakers will hear employees’ stories and try to persuade the governor to change his mind about the move because of what’s at stake — for both these employees and other state workers.
“We won’t be the last ones that go. We may be the first ones that he’s targeting, but we won’t be the last ones,” Egizii said.
Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.