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Contract not a done deal yet

It’s up to the Legislature to pay for it

There was a certain amount of rejoicing last week when it was announced Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration had reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The tentative agreement forestalled the possibility of a first-ever strike against the state by AFSCME’s members. Although there were plenty of people who thought the union wouldn’t go on strike, AFSCME nonetheless had been revving up talk of a walkout in the weeks leading up to the agreement.

The contract must still be ratified by rank-and-file members, but you can be sure AFSCME’s leadership will press home the idea that the deal is a lot better than the alternatives that were pushed by the Quinn administration for the past 15 months, including a 3-year wage freeze and much higher health insurance costs.

The 3-year contract reportedly calls for higher insurance payments, but also raises in the last 2 years. It also calls for the state to make good on wage increases Quinn rescinded in 2011 because he said the Legislature didn’t allocate money for them.

Which brings us to the wild card in this whole thing. The net cost of the contract isn’t known yet.

The state still has severe financial problems, and it’s the Legislature that has to put together a budget that somehow pays for everything.

So what happens if the Legislature again essentially doesn’t allocate all of the money needed to pay for the contract?

Hopefully, we won’t have to find out the hard way.

Special order

Twice last week, the House employed a little-used mechanism to focus attention on major issues facing the chamber.

Each time, there was a special order of business during which the House debated and voted on a series of amendments dealing with one issue.

The first was Tuesday when the House took up amendments relating to concealed carry. Some 27 different amendments were pending. In the end, the House didn’t take up all of them, but it did debate and vote on many. Total time spent on the issue was about 9 hours.

On Thursday, it was pension reform, certainly the biggest financial issue facing the state, since pension costs truly are putting the squeeze on every other part of state government. There were only four amendments for the House to consider, but pension reform is still a big, controversial issue. Total time spent on pension reform Thursday was about 30 minutes.

No joke

During the Oscar telecast last week, host Seth MacFarlane made a joke about the Lincoln assassination that resulted in dead silence from the crowd. He tried to pass it off by asking if it is still too soon after the shooting to joke about it.

Apparently it is.

Remember back in 2005 when the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum was formally dedicated? U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was one of the speakers and told a little joke that hinged on the assassination. It, too, did not get a laugh, and Durbin faced criticism for some time after that for telling it in the first place.

So if you are going to be doing any speaking before groups, it’s probably best to steer clear of Lincoln assassination jokes. At least for another 100 years or so.

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