Automatic state worker pay hikes, gas tax hike coming to Illinois July 1
How fair is it that some of the highest-paid state employees in the nation are getting a raise that must be funded by an economically wounded bunch of taxpayers?
Putting things on “automatic” just makes life so much easier in Illinois, at least for the state’s leaders.
No need to make politically unpopular decisions, because that state gasoline tax automatically goes up on July 1. Same for lawmakers giving themselves $1,800 raises while being able to claim: “We didn’t vote for those. They were automatic.”
And so it is for Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He doesn’t need any courage to face the state’s biggest government worker union and speak the truth about COVID-19 shutdowns blowing a $6 billion hole in the state’s revenues. On July 1 there will be $261 million in raises going to members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, automatically.
So how fair is it that some of the highest-paid state employees in the nation are getting a raise that must be funded by an economically wounded bunch of taxpayers?
Pritzker dismissed the idea of delaying the state worker raises: “That’s not something that we’re currently having discussions about,” he said in late April.
But other governors, and specifically other Democratic governors, have taken action to preserve scarce cash as they deal with extra costs and crumbling tax bases thanks to the pandemic.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is canceling a 3% pay hike for some state employees and forcing one-day-a-week furloughs on 40,000 others to handle a nearly $9 billion shortfall.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delayed raises for 80,000 state workers for 90 days, and is now considering employee buyouts. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pushed back state worker raises, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf stopped paying 9,000 state workers on April 11.
Yet Illinois won’t even talk about public workers sharing some of the public’s pain. Instead, unemployed Illinoisans get put on hold for hours by the state and then cut off by a recorded message.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security has been an embarrassment throughout the COVID-19 shutdown. After weeks of excuses, Pritzker cobbled together fixes that included a $22 million, no-bid contract that took almost two months just to get federal money provided in late March into the hands of self-employed workers. The new system promptly exposed Social Security numbers of 32,483 applicants, and led to identity theft according to a federal lawsuit in St. Clair County.
Meanwhile, millions of dollars in state worker pay raises flow like water.
Illinois was a financial pit before COVID-19, driven mainly by overly generous public employee salaries and public pension spending handed out by the public servants whose campaigns were so generously supported by those public employees.
Illinois state workers in 2017 were the second-highest paid in the U.S. after adjusting for cost of living, averaging $61,207. More than half of them will become retirement millionaires as Illinois spends nearly double the national average, or more than 25% of the state’s operating budget, on pension costs.
The state’s pension crisis is driven in part by 3% compounded annual pension raises, which are – you guessed it – automatic.
Amending the Illinois Constitution could control those costs, and save the state’s five pension systems from either failing retirees or continuing to cost taxpayers ever more for fewer services. To get there Pritzker and state lawmakers need to take action, but that’s not something that they’re currently having discussions about.
Illinoisans cannot expect solutions if leaders automatically respond to the same old problems with the same unthinking behaviors.