SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Pat Quinn wants to cancel raises for thousands of state employees to help cope with the Illinois budget crisis, a move denounced Friday as "illegal and irresponsible" by a key union.
Quinn's surprise announcement came on the day workers were to get 2 percent increases. Neither union leaders nor lawmakers knew he was considering blocking raises for nearly 30,000 employees.
The raises are promised in state employees' union contracts, but Quinn argued he doesn't have to pay the raises because lawmakers didn't include enough money for them in the budget. It wasn't immediately clear whether blocking the raises would require approval from a legislative panel that reviews changes in state rules.
Aides to the Democratic governor said 14 state departments, including Corrections, Human Services and Natural Resources, cannot pay the $75 million in higher wages and still make it through the entire budget year. The raises amount to roughly 0.002 percent of the state's general spending.
"If the state paid these increases, the impacted agencies would not be able to make payroll for the entire fiscal year, preventing them from continuing operations and providing core services to the people of Illinois," said a statement from Quinn spokeswoman Mica Matsoff.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it would pursue all its legal options to force Illinois to live up to its contracts.
The union condemned Quinn in harshly personal terms, calling him hypocritical and saying he "has sunk even lower" than some Republican governors because they changed laws on collective bargaining while Quinn is simply ignoring a legal contract.
"With his illegal and irresponsible actions today, Gov. Pat Quinn has trampled on the collective bargaining process and broken his contract with the men and women who do the real work of state government," Henry Bayer, head of AFSCME's Illinois division, said in a statement. "Today Pat Quinn has shown that his signature on such negotiated agreements is not worth the paper it's printed on."
Quinn and AFSCME reached a deal last year that bars the state from laying off employees or closing government facilities. In exchange, AFSCME agreed to come up with at least $50 million in cost-cutting and delay raises. Originally, AFSCME workers were to get 4 percent increases Friday, but the union agreed to give up months' worth of additional pay by taking a 2 percent raise now and the other 2 percent in February. Another raise, of 1.25 percent, is scheduled for January.
Quinn says all the raises, which were originally negotiated by his predecessor, are canceled now.
The union has successfully fought layoffs and other cost-cutting measures in court.
Quinn's effort to halt the raises comes on the first day of Illinois' new fiscal year.
General spending will be $32.9 billion, down roughly 6 percent from the previous year. But total spending — including federal funds, fees and other special categories — will climb to more than $56.2 billion, Quinn's office said. Much of that 6.6 percent increase comes from contributing money to government pensions; last year, Illinois borrowed money to cover pension costs.
Despite the cost-cutting and a major income tax increase, Illinois still faces a shortfall of at least $6 billion and perhaps more than $9 billion.
State employees aren't the only ones losing money. A day earlier, Quinn announced he was cutting $376 million for operating school buses, running regional education offices and paying doctors and hospitals that treat the poor.
The Illinois Hospital Association criticized Quinn's Medicaid cuts. Regional superintendents of education, who were sworn in for new terms Friday, are likely to go to court after Quinn eliminated their salaries "like a thief in the night," as Peoria County Superintendent Gerald Brookhart put it..
Before announcing those cuts and signing the budget into law, Quinn complained that lawmakers passed a spending plan that shortchanged key government services, including education and health care. By cutting even deeper, he hopes to force lawmakers and interest groups to negotiate further.
But lawmakers may not respond well to Quinn using his veto power to resurrect cuts they have already considered and rejected.
"To me, this isn't working with people," said Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville.
Associated Press writer Deanna Bellandi contributed to this report from Chicago.
Christopher Wills can be reached at http://twitter.com/ChrisBWills