by Mark Cavers
On Thursday, the Illinois Senate passed a bill sponsored by Senator Brady that would compile information on employee characteristics, compensation and mobility.
This is an important piece of legislation because approximately one-third of the state’s budget goes towards compensation. Yet, simple top-line data on the labor force is very difficult and in some instances impossible to get.
Senate Bill 3682 would collect data on the labor force of Illinois and present it for the public to view and analyze on the state's transparency portal.
According to research done by Wendell Cox for the Illinois Policy Institute:
"If the state of Illinois were a private company, it would rank approximately 100th in the world in annual revenue. A private company of this size would be able to quickly provide detailed information on its labor force. This information could then be used to make decisions on personnel, compensation, and benefits."
Why doesn’t the state keep similar data? In this area Illinois is not only lagging behind private companies; it is also trailing other governments. States across the country from Washington to Minnesota to Vermont already compile and publish information on their workforces. In Pennsylvania, for example, the governor’s office compiles an Annual Workforce Report, which shows basic information on the state’s workforce across agencies in a simple, easy to understand format.
Senator Brady's bill does not outline what data will be collected and posted online, but the information in Pennsylvania's report can serve as a template for what Illinois should collect: information on benefit and salary costs
per employee, average time off, union representation and demographics among other things. Additionally, the information should be broken down by agency and across multiple years where
available allowing for easy comparisons between agencies and over time.
To see the impact of making this information public, we can look to the City of Chicago. In September 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made news when he announced that an internal investigation found almost seven percent of the city’s garbage truck drivers were on sick leave on Fridays.
Mayor Emanuel said that this type of chronic absenteeism had led to cutbacks in tree-trimming and rodent control services. Rather than hiring more employees, the City just needed to use its employees more efficiently. To track the issue moving forward, the city now posts the average unscheduled days off per week online for all residents to view. Specifically, the Mayor said that putting the data up online can “increase accountability and enhance services.”
As was the case in Chicago, recording and presenting information on the state’s labor force can lead to savings or improved delivery of services.
Facing a multi-billion dollar backlog of unpaid bills and over $85 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, taxpayers desperately need any savings that can be realized through increasing workforce efficiency. The same holds true for those who rely on government services because, as recent research shows, the cost of public employee benefits are crowding out state spending on core services like education.
Good information on this significant portion of the state budget is essential at a time when fiscal realities are pressuring the state to cut spending yet workforce costs are rising.
A Pennsylvanian can simply go online and view the Workforce Report to find information on the state’s labor force. Compare that to Illinois where a resident would have to file multiple different FOIA requests to multiple different government agencies and would still find that some of the information is not available.
Equally troubling, elected officials charged with overseeing and managing the state’s workforce do not have easy access to this information, information that the heads of private companies and other states look at before making budget and personnel decisions.
Without a clear understanding of the state’s workforce as it exists today, elected officials, residents and government employees have a difficult time finding ways to improve government operations and ensure taxpayers are receiving services from highly trained, appropriately paid government employees.
If enacted, Senate Bill 3682 would take the first step towards ensuring we have the most effective and efficient workforce possible. Stay tuned to see how it progresses in the House.