April 14, 2014
By Paul Kersey

The Belleville News-Democrat was right to raise a warning about HB 5485 (Illinois lawmakers erode local control, April 4), a bill that would allow arbitrators to set minimum staffing levels in fire departments throughout Illinois. Local officials ought to decide how firefighters are deployed.

Allowing arbitrators to set both wages and manpower means that taxpayers can be hit by a double-whammy, with unions demanding both big pay increases and high staffing levels. Unions can make even more outrageous demands when they know that if they don’t like the response they hear from local officials, they can turn to an arbitrator to get what they want. Taxpayers would have to put up with cuts in other services, or watch their taxes go higher.

Belleville, along with many communities in Illinois, is struggling with high labor costs. The city’s firefighter pension fund is only 40 percent funded and its police pension fund has just more than half the money it needs.

Illinois needs to change direction. We should be looking at the example of Wisconsin. That state overhauled its labor laws and reined in union power, and as a result the cost of government went down. Throughout Wisconsin state and local officials were able to preserve important programs at a lower cost. State and local budgets are balancing, and the state is able to offer Wisconsinites tax relief.

Local officials shouldn’t need to ask unions or arbitrators for permission to make the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Paul Kersey, Director of Labor Policy

Illinois Policy Institute

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