The Southtown Star

Vacations, furloughs and a financial mess

Monday, August 30, 2010

Only Illinois would cut its budget by forcing state employees to take furlough days ... and then decide to pay them.

Apparently, the employees didn't much like the idea of taking the equivalent of a 9.6 percent pay cut, 24 unpaid days off, during the current budget crisis. So Gov. Pat Quinn is saying they can take their vacation and personal days and claim that as furlough time.

Undeterred by critics who questioned how this was going to save the state money, a Quinn budget official said the administration has not revised its projection that about $18 million would be cut through the furlough program.
I think there's a method to Quinn's madness.

State officials last week insisted that "only employees who choose to take a paid vacation or personal days as furlough days will get a paycheck." Anyone else, according to the governor's staff, will not be paid. That's why, they claim, it is impossible at this time to estimate the cost savings.
Well, if that's not the perfect way to uncover mentally defective personnel, I want to hear of a better one.

OK. You could just say, anyone who doesn't want to get paid, please raise your hand.

By the way, state employees can continue to schedule vacation days and personal days as they see fit. No one's going to be telling them they have to take paid furloughs during July if they want to visit Disney World over Thanksgiving break.

Here's a statement sent to me by a State of Illinois spokesman: "If an employee uses a vacation day to fulfill a furlough requirement, the employee will receive vacation pay for that date and will not be required to work."

As opposed, I guess, to taking a vacation day and working or taking a vacation day as a furlough day and working.

I wonder just how many state employees offer to work without pay? That would be worth a story.

And before you start shouting, "Those unions are destroying this country," these furlough days I'm writing about are for 2,700 non-union state workers.

I don't really blame state workers if they're unhappy about the furlough program because it turned out Quinn gave many of their supervisors pay raises. The entire furlough program was really just a public relations ploy to begin with, and it seems to have completely backfired.

I'm going to assume that many of these state employees don't have 24 vacation days, so there probably is going to be some cost savings here, but it's not going to put even a small dent in the state's massive budget deficit.

Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno, of Lemont, told me that the GOP will not be making a campaign issue out of the furlough that's not really a furlough.

And that tells you how crazy the political situation really is here in illinois.

If I were running a candidate in November against a governor who was telling people he was slashing the budget by paying employees to take furlough days, the TV commercials featuring this political double-talk would start airing tomorrow.

I don't know what happened to Quinn. Once upon a time, he understood the people of this state and had a reputation as a straight-talking, reform-minded politician.

He successfully backed a constitutional amendment cutting the size of the Illinois House by one-third many years ago. And he created the Citizens Utility Board to represent consumers when it seemed that the utility companies owned the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Honest government is what this state needed, Quinn often said, and he was right.

Quinn is not Rod Blagojevich or George Ryan. I don't ever expect to hear that he, or one of his close advisers, has been indicted by the federal government for shaking down contractors or stealing the state's money.

But refusing to take graft shouldn't be the only qualification for holding this state's highest office.

Quinn's actions in dealing with the worst financial crisis in this state's history seem pathetic, and his willingness to talk gibberish indicates he has no respect for the people of this state.

This state has about $5 billion in unpaid bills sitting in the Illinois comptroller's office, its underfunded pension systems are being forced to sell assets and the Legislature failed to pass a budget this year. Not a balanced budget ... a budget of any kind.

Paying state employees for taking furlough days may make sense to Quinn.

And telling us that this means government workers will actually be spending more time at work, instead of on furlough, may seem like good public policy to him.
But I find myself wondering if governors get a lobotomy down in Springfield the day they take the oath of office.