By Dan Proft, Featured in the Chicago Tribune on 1/15/2016
Gov. Bruce Rauner is interviewed at the Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, about his first full year in office. On Friday, he announced that his administration has asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine whether or not the the state and AFSCME are at an impasse. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
A study done last year by the think tank State Budget Solutions found that total compensation for Illinois state employees was on average 27 percent higher than their counterparts in the private sector.
Illinois state employees made nearly $4,000 more in wages and $13,000 more in benefits than the private-sector employees.
More than half of Illinois state workers will retire before age 60 with guaranteed state pensions that average more than $42,000 and compound at 3 percent annually.
Here’s what you already know: The state is in a financial death spiral with ground impact imminent.
All of this is useful to consider against the backdrop of Gov. Bruce Rauner breaking off contract talks with AFSCME, the state’s largest public sector union representing some 36,000 state workers.
AFSCME has been unwilling to give on its demands for annual salary step increases of 3.8 percent in addition to annual general wage increases. The step increases alone represent a raise of more than seven times the rate of inflation in 2015. AFSCME has been unwilling to give on payment of overtime after 37.5 hours of work in a week.
The lowball estimate of the cost of what AFSCME demands is $1.6 billion. That’s $1.6 billion more from Illinois families, who pay the highest property taxes in the nation, who are already on the hook for $8.5 billion in unpaid state bills and $111 billion in unfunded state pension liabilities.
The fiscal reality of the state was not lost on unions that represent smaller groups of state workers. The Teamsters, representing nearly 5,000 state employees, agreed to a four-year general wage freeze, a four-year freeze on step increases and starting overtime compensation after 40 hours of work.
This is not an attack on public sector workers. This is not an attack on public sector unions. The Teamsters, and many rank-and-file AFSCME workers with whom I have spoken, have proved eminently reasonable.
This is a story of the funding arm of the Illinois Political Ruling Class that preaches fairness but enjoys being downright spoiled by those it has bought, paid for and sent to Springfield. AFSCME has always gotten what it has wanted — no matter the price. It likes it that way. And it’s not particularly keen on changing the cozy arrangement it’s had with both parties for generations.
This is Rauner’s moment of truth.
Even more important than a fiscal-year budget is sending the unmistakable message to AFSCME (and its SEIU and teachers’ union cohorts) that the balance of the nearly 13 million residents of Illinois not in their ranks do not exist as spare parts for the machine that spits out compensation packages 27 percent higher than their own.
If that involves a siege on Springfield like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker confronted in Madison, so be it.
If that requires layoffs and outsourcing of state work to contractors, so be it.
If that requires losing an election, so be it.
Rauner ran for governor saying he is not a politician. He said he is a businessman who will make the difficult decisions to turn around the state he loves.
We’re about to find out if that’s true.
Dan Proft is a talk show host on WIND-AM 560.