Copyright 2014, The National Institute for Labor Relations Research
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In early 2011, after ramming through the Illinois Legislature a multi-billion-dollar tax hike, Big Labor Gov. Pat Quinn (D) assured his constituents that the Prairie State was, at last, on “fiscal sound footing” (sic).
But Mr. Quinn is now admitting, effectively, that he was all wet. A new ad campaign sponsored by the Illinois governor featuring “Squeezy the Pension Python” warns that, unless the Prairie State quickly gets control over skyrocketing public employee retirement costs, fiscal catastrophe looms. (See the first link above for more information.)
Compared to his previous blase stance, Mr. Quinn’s current views on Illinois’s fiscal outlook have the benefit of general accuracy. Unfortunately, he has yet to show any interest in curtailing the government union special privileges that are a key contributing factor to out-of-control pension costs and an array of other types of wasteful government spending.
For the past three decades, roughly speaking, Illinois state law has explicitly authorized unions to act as public employees’ monopoly-bargaining agents on matters concerning their pay, benefits, and working conditions. State law has also authorized and encouraged the firing of public employees for refusal to join or pay dues to an unwanted union.
State and local government union bosses have wielded their monopoly power to coerce Illinois cities and school districts into going along with schemes that unjustly burden taxpayers and misallocate resources that should be used to cover the cost of vital public services. For example, as The New York Times reported in September (see the second link above), teacher unions across Illinois have circumvented public policies requiring that 9% of each educator’s paycheck go into a pension fund. Bowing to union officials’ clout, the Chicago School District, for example, “has been paying $130 million a year to cover most of the pension contributions required of teachers, a practice known as ‘pickup.’”
One of the simplest and most obvious ways to curtail wasteful public spending in Illinois would be to eliminate government union monopoly bargaining, or at least sharply reduce its scope so school districts and cities could not be strong-armed into acquiescing to indefensible schemes such as the “pickup.” Unfortunately, so far Pat Quinn hasn’t even discussed a monopoly-bargaining rollback as a part of the solution to Illinois’s pension crisis.
The “Squeezy the Pension Python” ad campaign has been derided as childish, but at least it is calling attention to a serious problem. Now it is time for the governor and Illinois legislators to get serious about crafting a solution. Rolling back government union bosses’ unwarranted special privileges must be a major part of any viable reform package.