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State workers may be cut under House budget

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SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn's deal with one of the state's largest labor unions to avoid layoffs until at least next year might prove futile, because the state House's budget might not set aside enough money to keep all state workers on the job.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn's deal with one of the state's largest labor unions to avoid layoffs until at least next year might prove futile, because the state House's budget might not set aside enough money to keep all state workers on the job.

The Illinois House of Representatives approved its version of the state budget Friday. Its budget includes cuts to personnel of up to 7 percent from Quinn's introduced budget, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, or AFSCME.

Quinn's agreement with the AFSCME, which has about 75,000 members, includes no layoffs until July 1, 2012, but the state House budget throws a wrench into that plan, by not only compromising state jobs but also jeopardizing scheduled raises that have been deferred because of the state's finances.

State agencies faced with tight budgets could decrease their number of positions, instead of laying off workers, which would create an unfilled, yet retained position, said state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.

"This is how much money the committee says you, (the) director, have. You are under a decree that you can't lay off people; you can, however, reduce the size of your force completely," Mautino said. "They always have the ability to say, instead of having 10 people in this agency, in this division, 'We're going to lay off two people, and we will recall them back,' (or) they will say, 'Forever more we will have eight.'"

Ultimately, all state agencies are under the direction of the governor. Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for Quinn's Office of Management and Budget, said the governor's office will continue to work on managing payroll, but she did not go into any further detail as to how the House's cuts would be handled.

Mautino said he isn't leaning one way or another on layoffs; he and other legislators were just working with the money available to the state.

Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME, said no matter how the House phrases it, a layoff is a layoff.

"This construction is totally fictitious. It's bogus. It doesn't exists," Lindall said.

He said AFSCME would take the fight to court if necessary.

Laura Call is a specialist for the Illinois Secretary of State's Business Service's division and member of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU. The union has more than 2.2 million members nationwide, representing workers in the health-care industry, property services and state and local governments, according to its website. She's been working for the state for 25 years, and it's taken her that long to get her salary of $77,796.50

Call said she seen her department whittled down to about 100 employees, leaving many positions open.

"Which is fine, we get to wear many hats. I'm happy to work harder, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have a job and benefits," Call said.

She said her long-term employment with the state gives her a perspective others might not have. The state's fiscally unhealthy, she said, but that doesn't mean it should renege on agreements made.

The state Senate, too, passed a version of the budget Friday, though the revenue figures upon which it based its numbers were less conservative that those the state House used: $34.3 billion versus $33.2 billion. Most state agencies would see a 5 percent cut to personnel under the state Senate's budget.

If the state Senate and state House could agree on a budget, Quinn would have the final decision, and his office did not answer questions on whether it would veto personnel cuts.

"I don't expect that this budget will be final spending plan," said state House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. "We want to work with the governor, with the budget office, and we want them to tell us where they think there should be changes in what we're doing."

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