A standing-room-only crowd watched the Edwardsville City Council vote down a resolution supporting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda, one of several cities to do so in recent weeks.
The council voted against the resolution at its meeting Monday. The resolution, which originated in the governor’s office, stated its support for the “Turnaround Agenda” plan to fix Illinois’ budget problems. It includes controversial proposals such as creating “empowerment” right-to-work zones within the state and eliminating the prevailing wage law, which requires government contractors to pay their employees the same as union wages would require on government projects. The resolution also included statements in support of Rauner’s proposals for reducing unfunded mandates and rewriting worker’s compensation laws.
The council chambers were filled with more people outside in the hallway. Crowd estimates varied from 80 to 150 people. “It was either the largest or the second-largest crowd I’ve seen,” said Mayor Hal Patton.
Patton said prior to the meeting, he had told Rauner’s staff that they would be editing the resolution: Edwardsville leaders support project labor agreements and were opposed to what he said were vague references to worker’s compensation reform. Those changes were made, he said, but there was still opposition.
“My mistake was that I wasn’t focused on the empowerment zones,” Patton said. “(Rauner’s) comment was that he does not think Illinois will become a right-to-work state in the near future... and I tend to agree with him on that.”
Patton also had suggested tabling the vote, but that proposal also was voted down by the council. It failed 5-2, with aldermen Tom Butts and Craig Louer voting in favor, and all others voting against.
Ward 5 alderman William Krause said he couldn’t support it even as a symbolic action as it was a premise with which he was not particularly comfortable.
“All of us agreed with some portion of it, but taken as a whole, you’re still approving the premise on which it is based,” Krause said. “Edwardsville is a progressive community, and we stand for middle-class individuals and workers.”
Krause said that the “right-to-work zones” face legal challenges; it eliminates the “fair share” dues paid by employees who benefit from union contracts but who do not wish to join the union as full members. He called it “wrongheaded. I think there’s a solution out there, but for me, it’s not this resolution,” he said.
Patton said there are some “really scary numbers” that will have to be faced. “If individuals think the status quo is going to continue, we will find ourselves in an ending that is not a positive one for the state of Illinois,” he said. “We have to change the way we do things... If the state fails, they will cut back on our funding. And that will result in layoffs and unemployment of our personnel.”
Last month, Patton testified beside Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert in opposition to a proposed 50 percent reduction in the cities’ portion of income taxes. For Edwardsville, he said, that would be a reduction of $1.2 million - or 8 percent of the city’s $14 million budget. “If we have to absorb $1.2 million because the state is not operating efficiently, we will lose employees,” he said. “I don’t want to harm workers or families; that is the last thing we want to do. We want to grow Edwardsville for more opportunities for more workers... We just have to look at our policies and see if they make as much sense as they did 10 years ago.”
Union leaders said they only had a few hours’ notice that the resolution would be on the agenda, but they got out the word.
“I think this whole resolution is an attack on working families,” said Dean Webb, president of the AFL-CIO of Madison County. “We realize there are budget issues in the state, but to start at the bottom and put this on working people and the elderly should be a crime. (Rauner) isn’t talking about revenue or corporate welfare... This trickle-down agenda doesn’t work.”
Resident Jack Daugherty, who was also at the meeting, said he was surprised that the resolution wasn’t discussed in committees prior to the meeting. The usual practice in Edwardsville is to review material in several committees before it is brought to the full council.
“It indicated there was something very odd about this that deserved extra attention,” Daugherty said. “The Rauner agenda has taken failed government policy, which in the past has rolled down to local government to fill in the gaps, and now they’re doubling down on local government to fill in those gaps. They’re the least culpable in the mess that we’re in.... It defies logic.”
Patton said that the resolution and the 45-page Turnaround Agenda Rauner proposes was given to the full council at the last city council meeting.
Several people were surprised by the large turnout, but most said conversation was civil.
“They were all very passionate about this issue,” Krause said. “We do need to come together to figure out these issues... If the city council wishes to send a message to the governor and to our state leaders, that dialogue needs to begin at the local level.”
Patton said he liked the open discussion, regardless of the vote. “It’s what government should do,” he said. “In my opinion, there is a lot more to agree to than to disagree to.”
Elsewhere in the state, the resolution supporting the Turnaround Agenda has not fared well. City councils in Evanston, Naperville and Lexington have tabled or voted it down; it was approved by Rockford. Other city councils and county boards will likely vote on it in coming weeks, including Chicago.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 618-239-2507.