December 15, 2020

State employees shouldn't bear unfair share of revenue shortfall

On December 15, Governor Pritzker announced a plan to address Illinois’ dire revenue shortfall, which is the direct result of the defeat of the Fair Tax constitutional amendment at the polls in the November. AFSCME Council 31, indeed the entire labor movement, worked tirelessly to win passage of that important initiative which would have raised taxes only on the richest 3% of people in our state and raised enough revenue to close the budget gap.

Now another path forward is needed for our state. However, AFSCME strongly disagrees that this path should unfairly target state employees. Contrary to the implication in the governor’s comments today, AFSCME has not been in any form of discussions whatsoever with the Pritzker Administration about furlough days or any other changes to state employee rights or benefits. Nor, to the best of our knowledge, has any other union representing state employees. If the Administration does propose any such changes, members will immediately be apprised.

Below is the statement that Council 31 Executive Director issued in response to Governor Pritzker’s announcement on December 15, 2020.

“State Employees Cannot Be Expected to Bear Unfair Share in Current Fiscal Crisis”

Statement of Roberta Lynch, Executive Director, AFSCME Council 31

Since the earliest days of this pandemic, tens of thousands of Illinois state employees have been on the front lines, putting their own health and safety at risk to maintain vital services on which so many depend.

Undoubtedly our state faces a severe fiscal crisis and action is urgently needed. However, it is grossly unjust to suggest that frontline state employees who have already sacrificed so much in our current public health crisis should bear an outsized share of the burden of fixing the state’s fiscal crisis as well. Moreover, it is counterproductive in the extreme to target these employees at a time when the need for state services and the demands on state government are greater than ever.

State public health and emergency management employees have worked tirelessly to guide us through the challenges the coronavirus daily presents. Child protection workers have continued to go into homes to safeguard at-risk children. Correctional and state police employees have maintained security in our prisons and safety in our communities. Caregivers are on the job round-the-clock to bathe, feed and assist individuals with the most severe developmental disabilities. Nurse aides have remained in service to our aged and ailing veterans despite massive COVID outbreaks in the state’s veterans’ homes. Human service, environmental protection, transportation employees—and many more—are all on the job to keep Illinois working.

Thousands of these frontline state employees have contracted COVID, hundreds have had to be hospitalized, many are suffering prolonged aftereffects, and, yes, some have died.

The severe budget hole has been made much more severe by the billionaire-funded campaign that defeated the Fair Tax constitutional amendment. Had that amendment been enacted, the state would be on a reasonable path to solid fiscal ground. Instead, rather than asking everyone to pay their fair share, state employees—hard-working middle-income taxpaying Illinoisans—are now being asked to shoulder a bigger share of the budget burden. That is simply not acceptable.

AFSCME is firmly opposed to any demands that unfairly target state employees. We are, however, fully committed to revenue measures needed to keep Illinois working. We supported Governor Pritzker’s Fair Tax initiative. And we are now helping to lead the fight in Washington DC for an urgently needed COVID stimulus bill that is being blocked by Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans. We have long called for closing corporate tax loopholes in our own state and have recommendations for how to move forward on that front. And our members are prepared, as always, to help in identifying greater efficiencies in state government operations. Ultimately, however, legislative action is needed. It is urgent that the Illinois General Assembly come into session immediately after the holidays to address the state’s revenue shortfall in a fair and equitable manner.

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