The following op-ed is by Brooke Anderson, Press Secretary to Governor Pat Quinn.
Nobody is more committed to improving life for working families than Governor Quinn. Some of your readers will recall that back in 1993, Governor Quinn was among the few elected officials to stand with organized labor in opposing NAFTA. For three decades, he advocated for a humane minimum wage and workers’ rights. He has joined union brothers and sisters on more picket lines than any Illinois Governor in memory, dating back to his meeting César Chávez in the 1970s. Governor Quinn organized the Citizens Utility Board – along with groups like the Labor Coalition for Public Utilities – which has saved Illinois consumers $10 billion in utility rate reductions and refunds since 1985.
Since he became governor, jobs have been Governor Quinn’s number one priority. And his efforts have produced solid results for the working people of Illinois.
Our six-year, $31 billion “Illinois Jobs Now” program to modernize our state’s infrastructure has already created 140,000 jobs. Our $12 billion “Move Illinois” capital project led by the Tollway will create 120,000 jobs. And another bold infrastructure initiative will be unveiled soon. Some 400,000 people have gone back to work since he became governor because of our investment in public works. Governor Quinn has also signed numerous Project Labor Agreements - making Illinois a leading state for PLAs - and earned ongoing support from many unions, especially those involved with our unprecedented infrastructure rebuilding projects. He has worked closely with the UAW to ensure that major car builders like Chrysler, which went from 200 jobs at the Belvidere plant when the governor took office to more than 4,500 jobs today, have the tools they need to grow in Illinois.
While these efforts are succeeding and paving the way for future economic growth, the governor has also been called upon to return Illinois to sound financial footing. He inherited an ethical crisis, with two Illinois governors currently in jail. He also inherited a long-simmering fiscal mess from decades of bad decisions and mismanagement by previous governors and legislatures who played fast-and-loose with our retirement systems.
Governor Quinn was elected to restore integrity and fiscal stability to Illinois. He has asked everyone to make sacrifices to create a better future for all people.
It’s not easy to close state facilities. It’s not easy to cut your own budget, like both the governor and Lt. Governor Sheila Simon have done this year by nine percent. It’s not easy to scale back all the spending we control to 2008 levels – in the year of 2012. And it is not easy to reduce the Medicaid liability by more than $2 billion to ensure this important program is there for people who need it most.
But Governor Quinn is doing what is necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois.
While it is true that the governor has several legitimate policy disagreements with the AFSCME union of state government employees, AFSCME has made many claims that are simply not true:
- AFSCME claims the governor wants to lay-off 4,000 employees. False. Every employee laid off as the result of a closure of a juvenile facility or prison is offered another job within their own agency or other state agencies. The governor believes it is NOT in the interest of taxpayers to keep empty or half-full, very expensive facilities that are no longer needed open at taxpayer expense.
- AFSCME claims the governor is “breaking union contracts and undermining collective bargaining. False. Governor Quinn believes in collective bargaining. AFSCME has enjoyed the best contract in the nation. Over the past eight years, AFSCME employees have received pay increases that equate to 45 percent. Illinois AFSCME members make, on average, 23 percent more than their peers in comparable states.
- AFSCME claims the governor wants to take away pensions from employees. False. Governor Quinn wants to preserve the pension system because the status quo is unsustainable. Illinois has the worst-funded pension system in the country. Governor Quinn has proposed a plan that repairs the pension system by giving existing employees a choice – they can either keep their pensionable Cost of Living Adjustment the way it is and not access the state’s excellent healthcare or they can access the healthcare and accept a reduction of COLA to lesser of 3% or ½ of CPI, simple interest. At a time when some states have frozen COLA’s and many employees have seen their retirements eliminated, the governor’s plan preserves the system and ensures employees have access to benefits.
- AFSCME claims the governor has doled out hundreds of millions in tax breaks to corporations and resisted closing loopholes for oil companies. False. Governor Quinn proposed and pursued legislation that closes the oil derrick loophole this year. In fact, the governor has long supported closing loopholes that are based on politics and not economics. In fact, Governor Quinn fought for and doubled the Earned Income Tax Credit, the best tool we have available to provide targeted tax relief to working families.
- AFSCME claims that the Governor refused to pay for pay raises that were promised: False. In fact, the governor included the raises in his proposed budget – the General Assembly took the raises out. To be clear, we cannot pay for raises if there is no money in the budget to pay for those raises.
However, AFSCME and the governor do agree on this - AFSCME refuses any change to the status quo. They would prefer no closures, no pension reform and no spending cuts. They’re fine with things just as they are.
But let’s be clear: if we are to leave future generations a better Illinois than we live in today, we must change things.
Governor Quinn has never wavered in his advocacy of the core values espoused by the labor movement and what Progress Illinois articulates: a fairer tax code, health care for all, immigration reform, reproductive choice and government accountability. And it is precisely his commitment to working people that is driving him to enact comprehensive pension reform.
Unless pension reform is enacted, there will be no pensions for public employees in the future. Not only that, but vital services will suffer while our credit rating plummets, which means we will have no choice but to build less and put fewer people back on the job. It is the governor’s responsibility to ensure that we preserve pensions so that hard-working employees who have faithfully contributed to the system have access to benefits.
This responsibility is not something that the governor takes lightly. He was elected to tell the truth and change the way business is done in Illinois to ensure that we are a state that works for workers; a state that pays its bills; and a state in which every child has an opportunity for a solid education. The reality is - Illinois cannot achieve these greater goals until we address the reality of our pension crisis and take bold action to repair the problem. There is no easy way out of our challenges.
Governor Quinn is in this struggle to protect working people, their children and their children’s children. He’s constantly fighting for more equality, social justice and a fair shake for all.
If your readers agree with this mission, they should contact their lawmakers and urge passage of comprehensive pension reform. Illinois cannot move forward without it.
Brooke Anderson serves as Press Secretary to Governor Pat Quinn.
UPDATE (9/28/12): AFSCME Council 31 has issued a response to this op-ed, which can be found here.