In the wake of the end of spring legislative session, it has become clear that the General Assembly left itself a lot of unfinished business for next year.
Aside from failing to act on pensions and passing another budget with numbers that don’t add up, Illinois lawmakers also failed to make the government collective bargaining process more transparent.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, tried to get the ball rolling with House Bill 2689, which called for a two-week waiting period and public posting of tentative agreements before they can be ratified. But in the face of union pressure, Ives’ proposal was rejected.
State worker wages and benefits were a major factor in last week’s budget debacle, in which the General Assembly of a practically bankrupt state saw fit to increase spending by nearly $2 billion. Among the many bills the state had to take care of was pay raises awarded to state workers in the latest union contract – coming on top of back-pay for raises that the state had promised earlier and couldn’t afford.
Illinois government has developed a bad habit of making big spending commitments – both in bargaining and budgeting – without giving itself time to mull things over. That’s why the drive for more openness in bargaining is gaining momentum, with major media offering support as well. Since the General Assembly rejected HB 2689, Cleveland’s public schools and their teachers union showed that tentative agreements don’t have to be treated as if they were matters of national security by releasing their contract to the media well before it was ratified.
So this issue isn’t going to just go away. There’s no need for all the secrecy, and there are plenty of reasons why the state needs to change the way it does business. If these union contracts are such good deals, they’ll stand up to a little public scrutiny.
Paul Kersey is Director of Labor Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute