Pritzker gives $100 million in pay raises to some of the nation’s highest paid state workers

By Adam Schuster, Illinois Policy Institute | Jan 16, 2019


For one of his first official acts in office, newly elected Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Jan. 15 that he will grant automatic pay raises – also known as “step increases” – to Illinois state workers. His move will likely cost state taxpayers around $100 million.

These automatic raises have been frozen for the last four years due to a contract dispute between former Gov. Bruce Rauner and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the state’s largest public sector union.

Pritzker’s decision is prospective only, as it does not affect retroactive backpay for step increases not granted during Rauner’s tenure. AFSCME claims that workers are owed backpay for the entire period since the union’s previous contract expired on June 30, 2015. Rauner’s administration believed no raises were due after at least Jan. 8, 2016, when the governor declared impasse in contract negotiations.

Although Pritzker’s announcement included no estimate of the cost of the pay raises, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, or GOMB, previously estimated the full year cost of these automatic raises at $200 million for fiscal year 2019. Since Pritzker’s decision will affect roughly half of the fiscal year, from January to June, costs are likely to be around $100 million.

The governor’s move adds a substantial new expense for a state already struggling to pay its bills and provide core government services. Illinois’ fiscal year 2019 budget already has a deficit of more than $1 billion according to GOMB and as much as $1.5 billion according to previous Illinois Policy Institute estimates.

Pritzker’s press secretary previously stated that the new administration will deal with the backpay issue in a way that takes into consideration the state’s “current fiscal challenges.” If Pritzker were to grant all backpay and raises claimed by AFSCME, it would cost the state $546 million in year one, and $1.1 billion over the next five years, according to GOMB.

Illinois state workers are currently the second-highest paid in the nation after adjusting for cost of living, according to a Wirepoints breakdown of data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Prior to the contract dispute with Rauner, they were the highest paid in the nation after adjusting for cost of living. Pritzker’s move could again make them the highest paid state workers in the U.S.

AFSCME endorsed J.B. Pritzker for governor in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

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