PI Original Adam Doster Wednesday March 18th, 2009, 3:23pm

Public Employees Unions: Quinn's Budget Is "Unfair"

If Gov. Pat Quinn was hoping to
have organized labor on his side during the upcoming budget
negotiations, the initial reactions to his spending plan indicate
that's unlikely to happen.

Illinois' numerous public employee
unions today blasted the governor's proposal to ...

If Gov. Pat Quinn was hoping to have organized labor on his side during the upcoming budget negotiations, the initial reactions to his spending plan indicate that’s unlikely to happen.

Illinois’ numerous public employee unions today blasted the governor’s proposal to balance the state’s massive deficit by placing what they consider an unfair burden on state employees. Among their concerns: Quinn wants to reduce pension benefits for incoming state workers, increase employees’ pension contributions and health care payments, and require state employees to take four unpaid furlough days. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) calculated the toll (PDF) this would take on their members:

A typical state employee making $35,000 a year would lose more than $2,500 under these plans—a 7 percent pay cut—on top of any new income tax payment. This is deeply unfair. All Illinois residents depend on the essential services that state employees provide—and all Illinois residents should share the cost of paying for them. In other words, to help the state close its deficit, the average taxpayer making $35,000 would pay no more than an added $525 a year (or less depending on family size). But a state employee making that same amount would be saddled with an additional $2,500 in pay cuts from his or her pocket!

The teachers unions are just as frustrated. Illinois Education Association president Ken Swanson released a statement this afternoon criticizing Quinn for using the vast majority of federal stimulus funds intended for education to balance the $11.5 billion budget deficit:

“Instead of directing that the federal stimulus funds be used as President Obama intended, to preserve jobs and programs in public education, Gov. Quinn would use these one-time funds to balance the state budget. [...] The governor’s proposal is unacceptable to the 133,000 members of the Illinois Education Association.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers were even more frank, mentioning in their press release that “any legislator who supports these pension cuts will automatically not receive an IFT endorsement.”

The unions’ pension concerns are not unfounded. As Crain’s Greg Hinz explains, Quinn plans to withhold state payments to employees pension funds in the short-term on “the theory that the new pension system will save the state tens of billions of dollars in the future.” Hinz sees echoes of our former governor in Quinn's budget -- writing that it “cooks the books on pension ‘reform’ almost as thoroughly as Rod Blagojevich did” -- and predicts a big fight with labor over the proposed changes.

During his budget address, Quinn asserted that those who oppose his plan should “tell the people of Illinois what you would do instead.” AFSCME accepted that challenge, stating that their members are "prepared to pay their share of higher taxes":

We know better than anyone that new revenues are needed -- to prevent cuts that harm economic recovery; to invest in important priorities such as education, health care and other essential public services; and to pay the state’s bills. The governor’s budget takes a positive step in that direction with its proposed income-tax increase and other measures. But instead of the unfair and unequal new burdens he seeks to place on public-service workers, AFSCME believes lawmakers should consider more tightly targeting the personal exemption provision in the governor’s tax proposal to benefit low- and moderate-income families and save money; closing additional corporate tax loopholes; raising the income tax an additional half a percentage point; expanding the sales tax base to eliminate inconsistencies and capture service-sector economic activity; and other options.

At 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, state labor leaders -- from AFSCME, SEIU, and IFT, among others -- will hold a press conference in Springfield to highlight their concerns. We’ll have more on that in the morning.

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