September 6, 2015
The (Crystal Lake) Northwest-Herald
State now needs deal with workers
Illinois needed Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto to stand on a measure that would have empowered arbitrators to decide terms of a new contract for the bulk of state workers.
Our state, which already is in financial turmoil because of the lack of a budget, does not need what could be a damaging and distracting workers' strike, however.
Rauner scored what many consider a victory Wednesday, when lawmakers in the state House fell three votes short of what they needed to override Rainer's veto of the plan.
The governor fought hard to retain his authority to negotiate on the state's behalf with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Workers, which represents about 30,000 state employees.
Now that it is clear to the governor and union leaders there will be no getting around Rauner, it is up to both sides to craft a labor agreement.
Rauner is demanding concessions from the workers, including wage freezes, increased contributions to health insurance, a reduction in the number of paid holidays (currently 13), and shifting from a 37.5- to a 40-hour workweek to cut down on overtime pay.
Given the state of Illinois' finances, it is reasonable to ask workers to sacrifice, and reasonable for the state to seek work terms that more closely resemble the modern public sector. State pension funds are terribly underfunded, and workers and retirees already have successfully defeated one legislative attempt to address the issue.
However, next time you hear someone bashing the state's workforce and their union, remember this: Compared with the rest of the country, our state's employees are few in number relative to our state's population, and their salaries, while significant, are a smaller percentage of the total budget than in most other states.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows in 2011, spending on salaries and wages in Illinois made up 11.8 percent of the state's total spending. That put Illinois 37th among the states, with such conservative bastions as Texas, Georgia and North Carolina spending a greater percentage of their budget on their workforce.
That same year, Illinois ranked 49th in the number of state government employees per capita, with 102 employees for every 10,000 people, according to the Census Bureau. Only Florida had fewer.
Unfortunately, Illinois is weighed down by its spending on pensions, which will cost the state $6.6 billion this fiscal year - about 18 percent of the $36 billion spending plan Rauner vetoed. This spending to cover obligations to current and former employees of state government, state universities, public schools and more is weighing down the state's budget.
In times of financial hardship, everyone must be willing to sacrifice, including the state's unionized employees, its taxpayers and its pensioners, too.
Rauner should make the best deal on behalf of the people he represents, as union negotiators no doubt will try to do the same.
We hope that through good-faith negotiation, an agreement can be reached with state workers. That already has happened with some of the Teamsters unions that do business with the state.
It can and must happen with AFSCME.
September 4, 2015
Sauk Valley Media
Hard to find a college education without MAP
State Treasurer Michael Frerichs says he stands tall for Illinois.
At 6-foot-8, he towers over almost everyone he meets. Even 6-foot-4 Honest Abe Lincoln would have to look up to him.
Frerichs traveled to the Sauk Valley Tuesday to stand tall on an issue he cares deeply about: education.
In particular, the state treasurer, who took office in January, wants the Legislature and governor to agree on funding for the Monetary Award Program. MAP grants provide tuition assistance to Illinois students who demonstrate financial need.
In May, the Legislature approved a budget with $397 million for MAP grants, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it at the beginning of what has become a 66-day (so far) budget stalemate.
The Senate came back and approved $373 million for MAP grants last month; the House has yet to act.
The problem is that college classes began in late August, and Illinois colleges and universities are still waiting for their money. Without it, 130,000 middle-class students will have to find another way to pay for college this fall.
Frerichs noted that Illinois colleges and universities haven't put up too much of a fuss because they have to work with state leaders on other important issues. Therefore, Frerichs decided to push the issue.
Frerichs rightly notes, "A college education opens doors for lifelong employment and feeds the pipeline of reliable workers that Illinois employers require."
When students are denied that transformational experience, "That just breaks my heart," Frerichs said, noting that he was the first member of his family to graduate from high school (Rantoul) and college (Yale).
Amid the pain that many Illinoisans have felt, and will feel, one hates to see students paying a penalty for their elders' budgetary intransigence.
It will be a tall order to achieve a MAP grant funding solution. Kudos to Frerichs for giving it the old college try.
September 3, 2015
The (Moline) Dispatch
With SB1229 battle over, get back to search for solutions
With just three votes to spare, the Illinois House Wednesday sustained Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a bill that could have destroyed his ability to negotiate state employee union contracts.
We applaud House lawmakers who declined to join a super-majority of their Senate colleagues in overriding the governor's rejection of SB1229, especially those not afraid to register their opposition to this bad bill by voting no, rather than present. Of course, in voting present or not voting at all, lawmakers DID impact the outcome. The override bill needed 71 voters, but got just 68 as both sides heavily lobbied House lawmakers for their support.
It would be a mistake, however, to paint the end result of this time-consuming sideshow as a victory for Illinois. We're a long way from solving the problems plaguing this state.
While the vote does represent a win in a major skirmish for rookie Gov. Rauner over Springfield's most powerful man, Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan, it's important to note that an overwhelming majority of the members of the General Assembly continue to disagree with him on this and most other issues.
The vote doesn't bring the Democrat-dominated General Assembly and the Republican governor any closer to resolving a budget impasse that is beginning to be felt across the state. It also does nothing to bridge the chasm separating Gov. Rauner and American Federation of State County and Municipal Employee negotiators.
What it does do, however, and the reason it was so important, is that it forces the two sides to return to the table to iron out the best agreement possible for both the state's taxpayers and some 35,000 Illinois union workers.
For us, that always was the No. 1 reason to reject a mandatory arbitration bill that would have eliminated the governor's ability to represent taxpayers at the negotiating table.
Now that such a threat is over, at least for now, it's time to set aside the acrimony and focus on what needs to be done. There are billions of dollars, and the state's very future at stake, even as lawmakers begin to pass petitions for the next election.
Here is the overriding issue: Recent estimates put the state's budget imbalance at $5 billion. As our government fails to act, the red ink continues to hemorrhage.
Stop the bleeding, now.