The government union representing 35,000 Illinois state workers has been relentless in its demands for more and better benefits. In contract negotiations with the state, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, is demanding contract provisions that will cost the state an additional $3 billion dollars in wage and benefit increases.
These demands include wage increases of 11.5 to 29 percent by 2019, platinum-level health insurance at little cost to workers and a workweek with overtime for workers after just 37.5 hours.
AFSCME likes to depict itself as a defender of the middle class. But in reality, it is AFSCME launching an assault on the state’s taxpayers – and particularly on those Illinoisans who are less fortunate.
There is no bottomless pit of money in Illinois. It comes from taxpayers – who are already over-taxed. By demanding a larger share of these limited resources, AFSCME is depleting the funds and diverting them from Illinoisans who most need them.
Take social service providers, for example. Before lawmakers approved a stopgap budget in June, social service providers with state contracts had gone more than a year without state money. That is money used to provide care for the elderly and disabled. It is money for mental health services and drug treatment programs for those desperately needing assistance. And it is funding for services aimed at helping the homeless.
It was reported in May 2016 that the state owed $350 million – and counting – to Illinois social service agencies. While the stopgap budget helps keep social service programs going for a while, it does little to address the deficit funding.
And the “IOUs” to social service providers are just the tip of the iceberg. Illinois Comptroller Lisa Munger keeps a running ledger on her website demonstrating the current Illinois bill backlog. As of Oct. 12, that bill backlog had reached over $8.9 billion. That bill backlog isn’t just a number – it represents the money the state owes to programs, vendors and private business owners.
But to AFSCME, its demands are more important. Illinois state workers are already the highest paid state workers in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. But that isn’t enough for AFSCME’s leadership. It wants payroll increases of 29 percent. On top of that, AFSCME wants platinum-level health insurance at little cost to state workers. This level of level of insurance isn’t even provided to private-sector Illinoisans in the state insurance exchange. So while Illinoisans on the exchange cannot access the level of insurance AFSCME demands, taxpayers are expected to subsidize AFSCME’s health plans (currently at a level of 77 percent).
Simply put, AFSCME wants more money – to the detriment of others in the state.
Of course, AFSCME has an easy answer for Illinois’ financial woes: just raise taxes. But this alleged “remedy” is nothing more than the second blow in AFSCME’s one-two punch. First, demand more money from the state’s taxpayer-provided funds. Second, demand taxpayers put more money in, so AFSCME can take even more money out.
AFSCME doesn’t care Illinoisans are already overtaxed. A 2016 study showed Illinois has the highest median property-tax rate in the nation. Since 1990, residential property taxes have grown 3.3 times faster than median household incomes in the state. Property taxes are going up, while Illinoisans’ incomes remain virtually stagnant.
And it’s no secret residents are leaving Illinois in droves. Illinois’ out-migration rate is worse than any other state in the region. And many still here want to leave. A September 2016 Paul Simon Institute poll found that 47 percent of respondents would like to move out of Illinois. High taxes were the number one reason why.
So AFSCME’s solution – more taxes – will serve only to chase even more people away, leaving those remaining with an even bigger bill.
It’s clear both AFSCME’s demands and AFSCME’s “remedy” are solely about AFSCME – not about the middle class, and certainly not about the needy.