By Benjamin Yount
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Not only are pay raises in question for thousands of state workers in Illinois, but also whether Illinois has enough money to pay all of its workers for a full year.
Judges in Cook County Circuit Court and U.S. District Court in Springfield are being asked to decide whether 30,000 state workers will get their scheduled pay raises this year.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is trying to halt the raises — totaling $75 million — because he said the state cannot afford them. An arbitrator last week said Quinn could not block raises guaranteed in the 2008 contract with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
But Friday, July 22, Cook County Circuit Judge Richard Billik halted the arbitrator’s ruling, pending arguments in his court, which are scheduled for Wednesday, July 27. AFSCME is seeking to enforce the 2008 contract in U.S. District Court.
The governor said in filings to the court in Chicago that not only did lawmakers not include enough money for the pay raises, but they shorted the new state budget so much that Illinois won’t make payroll for 12 state agencies for the full year.
State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said the legislature knew a $33.2 billion budget would not be enough, and lawmakers assumed Quinn would have to act. And while the governor signed an agreement with the state’s biggest public employee union that forbids layoffs, Mautino said Quinn is well within his power to trim the state workforce through other means.
“There would have to be elimination of positions,” said Mautino. “Instead of funding 10 people for three-quarters of the year, you’d fund eight for the full year. That’s in the power of the governor to manage.”
Quinn signed an agreement with AFSCME in 2010 that blocked the governor from closing state facilities or ordering layoffs. He’s bound by that agreement, until the new state budget expires in July 2012.
However, state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said the 2010 union agreement does not prohibit eliminating positions.
“A layoff simply says that an individual who is laid-off will have the expectation of being called back at some point,” Harris said. “If the position is eliminated, there is no expectation of being called back.”
Quinn said Monday, July 25, in Chicago that he hopes to convince lawmakers to add funding to the state budget rather than force cuts.
“I’m open-minded that members of the General Assembly, when they come back in October and November, if they want to re-look at the budget … I want to work with them to improve the budget. To make it better,” said Quinn.
Harris said Quinn first should manage the money he has in the state budget.
State Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, said the budget was centered on that same theme.
“The governor is going to have to manage the budget with less,” said Kotowski.
Mautino adds that the governor may have a tough time persuading lawmakers of the need to add more funding to the state budget. He is quick to point out that lawmakers have agreed that if Illinois takes in more than $33.2 billion, that the extra money will be spent on past-due bills. The current backlog is more than $4 billion and could top $8 billion by December.
Mautino said he would expect lawmakers only to approve more spending for the “most critical” areas, like human services.
Harris agrees, and insists the governor would have to show the willingness to cut state spending before lawmakers will give him more money to spend.
“We’re certainly going to look very hard at any bill that would grant (more money) to help out a situation that we didn’t get ourselves into. He did,” said Harris.