Luechtefeld: New $1.2B in state revenue should go to workers' back pay, old bills

News-DemocratMay 7, 2014 

Illinois Pensions

Illinois Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, during an excutive hearing in the Senate earlier this year.

SETH PERLMAN — AP

— An extra $1.2 billion in revenue that the state expects to receive this fiscal year should go toward back-pay for state workers and paying down the state's backlog of bills, Sen. Dave Luechtefeld said Wednesday.

Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, joined other downstate lawmakers Wednesday in offering legislation that would dedicate the additional tax revenues toward paying the current bill backlog of $4.94 billion. The $112 million debt owed to correctional officers and many other state employees is the oldest bill dating back to fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

The workers received pay increases in their 2010 contracts, but Gov. Pat Quinn later ordered a pay freeze for state employees, and a court battle ensued.

"Illinois Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice employees statewide are owed are more than $88 million in back pay. Even after a court order, the administration and legislative majorities have continued to stall on issuing the payments to our public safety workers," Luechtefeld said. "In my district alone, more than $10 million is owed to the employees of Menard, Big Muddy, Pinckneyville, DuQuoin and several other southern Illinois correctional centers."

Luechtefeld said the Department of Human Services also owes $21 million to its employees statewide, as many workers of the Chester Mental Health Center and Centralia's Murray Center are still awaiting portions of their back pay.

"Some of these people are retired, and they're still owed money," Luechtefeld said.

State officials say Illinois is on pace to end its fiscal year with about $1.2 billion in additional revenue.

Most of the money is a one-time occurrence thanks to better-than-expected personal income tax collections and sales taxes.

"Since the 2011 (temporary) tax increase, Illinois taxpayers have paid an additional $26 billion in new revenues to the state, and our fiscal situation has yet to improve," Luechtefeld said. "The governor and legislative majorities have squandered their so-called 'temporary' tax increase. Why would anyone trust these people to do the right thing with this new $1.2 billion in revenues?"

Luechtefeld is a chief co-sponsor of the legislation, Senate Bill 3657, which was filed Wednesday.

Sen. Kyle McCarter, a co-sponsor, said Quinn shouldn't have promised raises for the workers in the first place.

"Unfortunately, the governor made promises for pay raises, just before an election, with money the state really didn't have," McCarter said. "It would have been better if he was up-front with the employees and told them that our state is nearly bankrupt and had financial obligations to human services, the poor, the elderly, the developmentally disabled and other areas of government that needed help."

But McCarter said the back pay is "a legal obligation state government now has, that we need to meet, and keep our word. That's why we are offering a solution."

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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