SPRINGFIELD — Pay increases for public employees in Illinois could become a trickle under a plan forming in the General Assembly.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — Pay increases for public employees in Illinois could become a trickle under a plan forming in the General Assembly.

Looking to interject itself into upcoming contract talks, the state Legislature is setting a limit on how much it’ll appropriate for wage increases.

The state House will decide the maximum increase.

“Essentially, it’s the Legislature putting down a marker and saying (to the governor), ‘If you go beyond this, we’re not going to fund it,'” said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at University of Illinois at Springfield and longtime state government observer.

The Legislature’s actions come on the eve of contract negotiations beginning between Gov. Pat Quinn and the state’s largest public-sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. The current contract ends June 30.

During the 2010 campaign cycle, which was the last major election before the new contract with the unions will be decided, AFSCME maintained a steady stream of campaign contributions to help get and keep public officials, from Quinn to Democratic legislators, in office.

Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 7, 2010, AFSCME gave $1.4 million to candidates, according to records from the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Topping the list were Quinn and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. Their campaign, Quinn/Simon for Illinois, got $575,000, or 42 percent, of AFSCME’s donations in that time period.

Requests by Illinois Statehouse News for comment from AFSCME were not returned.

James Nowlan, a senior fellow at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said campaign contributions can be viewed either as a group trying to buy influence or a group giving to a candidate who shares their values.

“It’s probably not possible to be certain about what role the campaign contributions play, but certainly, one would be suspicious of the ability of a governor to be objective with the unions, following campaign contributions of half a million dollars,” Nowlan said.

Should a negotiated contract or another legal case end up in the Illinois Supreme Court, AFSCME’s money will have beaten it there.

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride took $100,300 from AFSCME. Kilbride was up for a retention vote in 2010 for another 10-year term with the state Supreme Court. AFSCME’s contribution wouldn’t rule Kilbride out from voting on a case involving the union.

“There really is no firm set of guidelines on recusal, particularly at the Supreme Court level in Illinois,” Redfield said.

The third highest beneficiary of AFSCME’s money for the 2010 general election is the Democratic Party of Illinois, which received $50,000. The Democratic Party can decide what to do with contributions, including sharing them with candidates in various races.

On the legislative side, state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, took $20,500, the largest donation amongst legislators. State Reps. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, and Wayne Rosenthal, R-Litchfield, both received $20,000 from AFSCME.

How much influence AFSCME’s contributions have and how the public perceives them are two different things, Redfield and Nowlan agreed.

“You can argue it both ways but I think the public’s perception is that money has a pernicious influence on politics,” Nowlan said.

Other notable recipients include:

  • Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka: $20,000
  • Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan: $20,000
  • State Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis: $16,000
  • State Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin: $16,000
  • State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields: $16,000

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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