Illinois News Network: Governor requests ILRB review; Rep. Sandack: Review could be good for taxpayers

By: Greg Bishop

January 15, 2016

Governor requests Illinois Labor Relations Board review of negotiations
Governor Bruce Rauner says the only agreement his team and AFSCME have been able to reach in the last 12 months is that they would submit their disputes to the Illinois Labor Relations Board. That’s the message the governor has for state employees as he announced he’s taking negotiations with the state’s largest public employees union to the next step. Another option, the governor writes, is for AFSCME to submit the administration’s proposed contract to union members for a vote.

AFSCME, however, disputes the governor’s position that contract talks have hit an impasse. It said in an email to members Friday morning the union remains committed to finding common ground. Both sides claim the other side is putting out misinformation about various proposals. The state and AFSCME have been operating under a tolling agreement since the contract expired last summer.

Rep. Sandack: ILRB review could be good for taxpayers
Lawmakers from opposing sides differ on the impacts to taxpayers from Illinois’ governor requesting review of contract negotiations from the state’s labor relations board.

While the governor’s office renewed its pledge to not lock out state employees, Democratic Representative Lou Lang says in a statement Governor Bruce Rauner wants to provoke a confrontation and disruption of state operations, something Lang says would mean the loss of vital services relied upon by millions of Illinoisans. However, Republican Representative Ron Sandack says taxpayers may actually benefit from the governor’s move.

“This, and other aspects of the cost of governing, needs to be looked at anew, with fresh eyes, to see if we can’t do better for taxpayers.”

Rep. Demmer: Possible impasse shouldn’t overshadow fiscal reality
Meanwhile other lawmakers say ideological differences between Illinois’ governor and the state’s largest public employee union shouldn’t discount the dire fiscal reality facing the state.

Democratic Representative Will Guzzardi says the latest back-and-forth between Governor Bruce Rauner and the AFSCME union over whether there’s an impasse shows both sides have dug in.

“It’s a thorny issue and — again — both sides are coming from very entrenched positions in terms of their ideological perspective about how this ought to proceed.”

Republican Representative Tom Demmer agrees there are ideological differences but they can’t lose site of the state’s financial crisis.

“There’s also just the reality of the current situation the state’s in. The great deal of uncertainty around that is has to be complicating negotiations quite a bit.”

Per a tolling agreement, Governor Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to review the current state of negotiations and declare if there’s an impasse, a process the governor’s office says could take months. AFSCME says they’re still willing to negotiate a new contract to replace one that expired more than 6 months ago.

Lawmakers talk about amending constitution to fix pension crisis
With taxpayers being on the hook for nearly $113 billion, one idea is to change the state’s constitution to address the problem moving forward.

Republican Representative Tom Morrison says there could be an amendment to the constitution that would allow for already earned benefits to be kept in place but to amend any future benefits moving forward.

“With the state Supreme Court striking down Senate Bill 1 it looks like amending the state’s constitution is the way to go. It’s just to clarify that we’re not trying to take away benefits that have been earned up to this point. We need to make sure that when that individual reaches retirement age that they get a defined benefit based on those credits. But for future work we should be able to make an amendment to their retirement plan.”

Democratic Representative Elaine Nekritz says there could also be a constitutional amendment proposed to remove the pension protection clause altogether, but that may not solve the overarching question.

“Because other states that have no constitutional protection in their state constitution tried to do the kinds of things we tried to do with Senate Bill 1 and they’ve been struck down because of the federal contracts clause. Whatever avenue you take you’re still going to face a legal challenge. I don’t think there’s anyway around that.”

Any proposed amendment to address the growing unfunded liability for public sector pensions requires three-fifths approval from voters.

Secretary of State owes millions across state, loses secure money transport vendor
The Illinois Secretary of State’s office owes millions of dollars in utilities and rent across the state because of the budget impasse.

Secretary of state Press Secretary Dave Druker (rhymes with trucker) says they immediately started paying some bills when the legislature and governor approved $10 million, but the office
still owes Springfield’s city owned utility $3.7 million. There’s other money they owe elsewhere.

“Around the state we owe $4 million yet in leases and utilities and we’ve reached the point where we’ve made some inroads on that but there’s still a little bit of money we owe on that too. It increases each month. We paid them for the first three months of the fiscal year.”

The state is now nearly seven months into the fiscal year without a balanced budget.

Meanwhile Illinois Secretary of State Police are doing the job a private vendor was doing, but don’t expect that to save taxpayers money.

Druker says they lost the vendor that would transport money from drivers’ facilities around the state to secure locations.

“The firm that would pick up the money at the facilities, they stopped doing work for us because they weren’t getting paid — Garda — and they have been paid and we’re negotiating with them to see if they’ll come back.”

Druker says having the Secretary of State Police pick up the money isn’t a cost savings for taxpayers.

“Because they’re then being taken off of responsibilities that they have with their jobs.”

Druker says overtime may also play a factor in increased costs.

The Illinois News Network is an independent project of the Illinois Policy Institute