The Journal Courier

Editorial: The dirty little secret of furloughs

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What happens when poor intention meets bad execution?
Illinois budget policy is created.

Sorry to sound jaded and not stand around the campfire holding hands and talking about “shared sacrifice,” but it seems ludicrous that every new so-called cost-cutting measure is usually a veiled attempt to cover up an unnecessary mess.

Case in point, the decision by Gov. Pat “Did I Do That?” Quinn to have 2,700 state workers take 24 furlough days during the fiscal year as a way to save $18 million in the state’s $25 billion — with a “b” — budget.

The edict, which covers only those not represented by unions, comes on the heels of 12 furlough days required for the same class of workers last year.

Quinn encouraged legislative staff and union state workers — nearly 50,000 — to take unpaid time as well.

Please don’t rush. One at a time for that line.

The unpaid time is effectively the same as cutting salaries to those affected employees by more than 9 percent, again shifting the burden to the people who can least afford it. It also comes just a week after an Associated Press investigation showed Quinn had given 43 salary bumps in the year and a half he has been in the top seat. The average to those 35 staff members was 11.4 percent, but some were more than 20 percent.

Again, pardon the sardonic reception when he talks still about shared sacrifice.

Furlough has become a household word in this white-knuckles-on-the-desk society.

Businesses that have already slashed bone-deep with layoffs see them as a way to preserve the bottom line without losing people.

Admirable, sure. Workers were accepting of the idea, too, because it was the lesser of two evils.

But the dirty little secret of furloughs is they don’t work. They are a creation of a corporate imagination grasping at straws and willing to accept artificially flat-lined ledgers as reality.

What happens is that workers, who have carried the weight of most recessionary ills, are saddled again with choices that force them into checkmate positions. Many, studies have shown, quietly continue to work out of a sense of keeping themselves alive in the corporate jungle. Most companies see huge spikes in overtime to make up for the excess work already being done by those left in the wake of staff downsizings.

Details started emerging Wednesday, too, that — despite Quinn’s pronouncement the furlough days would not affect pensions, guess what: They will affect pensions because the overall compensation formula would be changed in the process.

To be fair, not all this can be dumped in Quinn’s lap. Although he is the person controlling the purse strings for now, that is only because of spineless legislative inaction.

It should come as no surprise that the same group that was able to find the time to declare May 8 “Taylor Swift Day” can’t be bothered with talking money until after the November elections.

So continues the Illinois logic: Why make tough choices now that could upset the voters but cure the illness when we could just wait until it’s dead and figure out who we can blame.