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Doug Finke

Doug Finke: Back to the same old, same old in Illinos

Election hasn’t changed much among bigwigs

Election hasn’t changed much among bigwigs

Let the games resume.

A week after elections that saw Republicans make inroads into Democratic majorities in the General Assembly, it was back to business as usual, at least for public consumption.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, citing a scheduling conflict, first shunned a meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner and the other leaders, then attended. He continued, though, to say the focus should be on a state budget and not Rauner's other agenda items. He wants to appoint a new group of lawmakers to negotiate a budget.

At the same time, Rauner and the Republican leaders insisted that a spending plan without reforms to improve the state's business climate doesn't provide a long-term fix for the state's budget. They initially said Madigan is stalling a solution, then softened that a bit to say they'll take Democrats at their word that they're ready to work on a solution.

For his part, Senate President John Cullerton left the second confab of the week saying he thought it was "very productive," so much so that he'd be willing to attend more meetings in a similar vein.

Maybe they'll all be able to reach some sort of agreement that will keep state spending going after Dec. 31. It just doesn't seem right now that that agonizing campaign season has done all that much to change anything.

Worst-pension crown shed for now

A couple of weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that New Jersey unseated Illinois for having the worst-funded pension systems.

It said New Jersey had $135 billion in pension debt compared to Illinois’ $119 billion. Bloomberg's number was higher than the $111 billion previously used for Illinois' pension debt.

Then last week, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability did its annual review of the state's pension systems and reported the debt to be nearly $130 billion. The best-funded of the systems is for university employees. The worst-funded, by a very wide margin, is the one for state lawmakers.

The COGFA numbers are depressing on one hand, but they also show Illinois is within striking distance of regaining its title for worst-funded pensions.

More bargaining? Extremely unlikely

When hundreds of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees members did informational picketing on Thursday, the theme was "don't dictate, negotiate."

In other words, the union wants Rauner to return to continue bargaining over a new contract, even though the Illinois Labor Relations Board said things are at an impasse and he doesn't have to. Let's review what happened between Tuesday's ILRB ruling and the start of the demonstrations around noon Thursday.

About 24 hours after the ruling, the Rauner administration said it was going ahead with plans to impose a merit pay-raise plan and to extend the work week for AFSCME members from 37.5 hours to 40 hours before overtime kicks in. So it took next to no time for the administration to begin imposing its contract terms rather than waver about continuing negotiations.

Bright and early on Thursday morning, the administration announced that April 22, 2017, will be the first-ever State Day of Service in Illinois. That will be a day when people can volunteer to do things for the state like clean up state parks, help with projects at the fairgrounds, or do volunteer work at veterans' homes, the administration said.

This was all made possible, the administration said, with the termination of the previous AFSCME contract through the ILRB ruling. The administration provided a couple of examples where AFSCME blocked the use of volunteers at a state park and veterans' homes, contending they were doing work that should be done by union workers.

The point is, the administration announced this thing the morning of the demonstrations, so it was basically another poke in AFSCME's eye.

Think they’re going back to the bargaining table?