While Illinois families have seen their incomes drop over the last 15 years, state workers have seen their incomes grow by more than 20 percent.
Illinois politicians often claim to work on behalf of the middle class. If that were true, they wouldn’t give the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lopsided bargaining power in contract negotiations with state taxpayers.
But that’s exactly what they’ll do if they override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 1229, a bill that removes the governor – the representative of state taxpayers – from the negotiating table in talks to determine AFSCME’s future pay and benefits.
AFSCME’s contract expired on June 30, and AFSCME is in the process of negotiating a new contract with the state. If SB 1229 passes, Rauner would be removed from the bargaining process, and an unelected arbitrator would take his place.
According to a memo by the governor’s office, AFSCME’s leaders are pushing for four-year raises ranging from 11.5 to 29 percent, a 37.5-hour workweek, five weeks of vacation and enhanced health care coverage.
If lawmakers replace Rauner with an unelected arbitrator, up to $4 billion in additional benefits and wage increases for the union could be on the table – costs that Illinois taxpayers can’t afford.
Before members of the Illinois House of Representatives vote this week, they may want to consider how taxpayers – those who’ll have to pay for AFSCME’s benefits – have fared in recent years.
Household incomes in Illinois, adjusted for inflation, have declined since 2000. Real household incomes were 8 percent lower in 2013 compared to 2000.
By comparison, state-worker salaries – a proxy for AFSCME’s members’ salaries – are up more than 22 percent since 2000 when adjusted for inflation.
Illinoisans have struggled to make ends meet over the last decade as a series of state budgets – built on deficits, higher taxes and debt – has hurt the economy, manufacturing and job creation.
Not only has this pattern of profligate spending, taxing and borrowing dragged down household incomes, it has also left more and more Illinoisans dependent on the government for their next meal. Since 2004, the number of Illinoisans on food stamps has doubled. Nearly 1 in 6 Illinoisans now receives aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, a far higher rate than most other states in the region.
Illinois can’t afford more of the same deficit spending and high taxes that have caused the middle class to stagnate or flee the state altogether.
Lawmakers must stand up to the demands of Illinois’ public-sector unions.
If any representatives still need convincing, they should recall what happened to Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, in the wake of the 2012 teachers’ strike.
In 2012, CPS had a $1 billion deficit and $9 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Despite all that, Mayor Rahm Emanuel caved in to the Chicago Teachers Union’s demands. The costs of the resulting contract drove the city and the school district further into crisis, ultimately resulting in school closings, the downgrading of the district’s credit rating to junk, thousands of teacher layoffs, and teachers’ pensions teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
If the House votes to override the governor’s veto, expect the AFSCME negotiations to result in higher costs the state can ill-afford and the worsening of the current fiscal crisis.
If Illinois’ lawmakers want to make good on their claim to be protectors of the middle class, they cannot let that happen.
Ted Dabrowski is Vice President of Policy for the Illinois Policy Institute.