Executive Director Reports

Abysmal state finances harm every AFSCME member

A RETIREE WRITES  to let the union know that his dentist now demands up-front payment from him because the state hasn’t paid in months.

A caseworker emails that she’s owed more than $1,000 for travel expenses and could sure use the money to purchase Christmas gifts for her kids. The press reports that Vermilion County may shut down its public health department because its state funding has dried up.

And the Associated Press uncovers a secret program where the Department of Corrections has been releasing inmates, many incarcerated for violent crimes, after only a few days in prison. Another impact of the budget fiasco. The “good time” granted may be good for the inmates who didn’t earn it, but it’s trouble to communities when perpetrators return to the scene of their crimes.

Glenn Poshard, the president of Southern Illinois University, worries about having the money even to meet his payroll, and two other university presidents are considering canceling their entire spring semesters for lack of funds. So much for the value of higher education.

Despite the looming catastrophe, most state legislators are still in denial, blindly hoping that the fiscal storm will pass. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM REALITY.

This month Illinois’ bond rating was lowered once again, sinking it to a depth exceeded only by the state of California, whose inability to raise taxes has forced it to issue IOUs to vendors and burden state employees with three unpaid furlough days each and every month.

Gov. Quinn’s plan to borrow $500 million is being held up by the comptroller, who claims that Illinois would be borrowing money just to pay off previous loans, not to pay the mountain of bills piling up. The Land of Lincoln is without a Lincoln penny as lawmakers continue to enjoy the holiday season, and those with primary opposition prepare their February primary campaign.

How long can this go on? Only as long as bondholders are willing to lend money even as the risk increases. Only as long as vendors continue to provide goods and services while waiting months for payment.

Some have already stopped: The company that supplies coal to the Jacksonville Developmental Center is demanding a $300,000 payment before making its next delivery.

Past state budgets have been called deficient for leaving folks out in the cold. But no one meant it literally, until now! We’ve seen tough times, but nothing that approaches what we confront today.

There are plenty of politicians willing to make AFSCME members pay more for fewer benefits. They are perfectly comfortable cutting funding to universities and local governments, at the cost of layoffs, furloughs and public services. But they won’t pay for these services in the only fair and equitable way – by raising taxes.

After a rigorous review, the union is endorsing fewer candidates than at any time in our history because, of those facing opposition in the primary, so few will stand up for public services and the workers who provide them.

A lot of AFSCME members who are disgusted with the whole political scene might think it’s a good thing to only support a few candidates. It’s not.

It’s tragic that there are such a small number willing to stand against furloughs, layoffs, and pay and benefit cuts. That number has to grow quickly to avert the looming disaster. We can grow it by demonstrating on Feb. 2 that politicians can stand with us, be for a tax increase and still get elected.

I know well the problems AFSCME members are facing. I know about the problems of short-staffing in state agencies and late payments to universities and direct-care agencies. I know that you’re waiting for expense reimbursements and are being dunned by your doctors for payment.

Every member who’s been hit by this budget calamity needs to call, write, and be willing to visit your representative. They need to hear directly from you. They are the ones who get to vote on a tax increase. They are the ones whose responsibility is to fix this mess.

At the PEOPLE Conference on Dec. 12 we asked attendees to state why they felt we needed a tax increase, what harm had come to them and their families, and why we can’t wait for a responsible budget. Senate President John Cullerton, who has already produced 31 votes to pass a tax bill in the Senate, gave this reason: “Illinois can’t wait for a responsible budget because it’s our job.”

Well said, senator. Now it’s our job to remind our representatives why they are elected and what might put them out of work. Every AFSCME member knows what he has to do to keep his job.

We need to educate legislators on what it will take to keep theirs.