Budget cuts coming? – Unfortunately, too many state legislators have backbones made of rubber. As the end of session nears and critical votes on the budget and revenues loom, a growing number of legislators are starting to fold on the essential vote to extend the state income tax increase. If legislators don’t vote for the extension, the current tax rates will be rolled back on January 1 and a giant hole – on the order of $2 billion – will be blown in the state budget.
So far, the appropriations committees in the House have been passing out departmental budget bills based on Governor Quinn’s initial recommendations – which included very few cuts and, in a few instances, increases in staffing levels. However, the governor’s recommended budget was predicated on the tax increase being extended. If legislators enact the spending levels proposed by the governor without the needed revenues, then the state will pretty much grind to a halt in early 2015 when the tax rates are rolled back – and service cuts and layoffs in state government will inevitably follow.
Of course, it would be even more disastrous if legislators fail to act on the tax extension and end up making big budget cuts before they wrap up their session this month.
The best course is for every legislator to stand up for services and jobs by voting AGAINST budget cuts and FOR extending the income tax.
You can help make sure that your state senator and state representative are standing up for the services and jobs that are essential to communities all across Illinois. Call both your state senator and representative toll-free on the AFSCME Hotline at (888) 912-5959. Tell them:
I’m calling to urge you to vote to keep the current state income tax rates in place. If the tax rates are rolled back as scheduled, then vital services will be slashed and hundreds of employees could lose their jobs. Make sure you pass a budget and related revenue measures to prevent service cuts and layoffs.
Back Pay Brigades – Delegations from AFSCME local unions representing state employees are headed for the State Capitol this week. They’ve been there every day of the legislative session for the past three weeks and they’ll be there the rest of this week, too. These rank-and file union members are pressing for passage of the supplemental appropriation needed to pay back wages owed to more than 20,000 state employees in five agencies: DHS, DPH, DOC, DJJ and DNR.
So far, delegations from some three dozen local unions from every corner of the state have met with more than 80 legislators. Virtually every one of those legislators has pledged their support for the supplemental appropriation. But passing the measure in the current fiscal climate will require more than “support”; it will require strong advocacy – legislators who are willing to go to their leaders and tell them that payment of back wages owed must be a top priority. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to call your state representative and state senator to tell them simple fairness demands that the state make its first priority payment of monies owed to its own employees. Ask your legislators to stand up and speak out for pay justice for state workers.
Combat in the courtroom – Workers and retirees won the first round in one of the most significant legal battles of the decade: the quest to protect promised pension benefits. Last December, lawmakers defied the plain language of the Illinois constitution and enacted sweeping changes to the SERS, SURS, TRS and GARS pension systems. AFSCME and our partners in the We Are One Illinois coalition filed suit in state court challenging the new law (Public Act 98-0599) which was scheduled to go into effect on June 1 – and asking that its implementation be delayed pending the outcome of the case.
Last week, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz granted the We Are One Illinois request for a Preliminary Injunction, staying implementation of the entire act.
The judge found that the coalition had demonstrated that there is “a fair question” of success on the merits of the constitutional challenge and that it had also shown that employees and retirees “will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction does not issue.”
The state has 30 days to appeal the decision to issue the preliminary injunction. The attorney general has not indicated whether she will do so. However, the attorney general has now filed the state’s response to the briefs filed by the We Are One Coalition (and other plaintiff groups) who are challenging the constitutionality of the law. In its response the state has two main lines of argument: 1) that the state’s “police powers” should override the constitutional protections provided to pensions because of the scale of the fiscal woes caused by pension debt (interestingly, the AG acknowledges the law does violate the pension clause in the constitution); and 2) that COLAs are not protected by the pension clause of the constitution.
The assault on public pensions has been unrelenting – with the corporate elite leading the charge and politicians of both parties heeding that call. The General Assembly has already acted to cut the pensions of City of Chicago employees (that bill is currently on the governor’s desk) and now Cook County officials are pushing for passage of a measure to cut county employees’ pensions as well. AFSCME is vigorously fighting every effort to slash pension benefits in the state legislature and in the courts. The union will continue to do everything possible to protect the retirement security that employees and retirees earned and deserved.
Speaking of retirement benefits… – If you haven’t already done so, be sure to mail back your ballot in the election for SERS Board of Trustees. AFSCME is recommending Pat Ousley, Cameron Watson and David Morris for the three open seats on the Board. It is critical to have a strong voice for employees on the SERS Board. For instance, it was at the initiative of AFSCME members on the Board that a resolution was adopted putting SERS on record urging that the courts issue a stay of SB 1. In addition, the SERS Board regularly considers appeals of employees who are seeking disability benefits or in disputes related to pension benefits. Ballots must be received in the SERS office no later than May 31 – so be sure to mail yours TODAY.
Per AFSCME Council 31