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Trust but verify

Wed, Apr 3, 2013

When it came to dealing with the Soviets, former President Ronald Reagan loved to quote Vladimir Lenin’s proverb, “Trust but verify.”

It is good advice coming from the only President born in Illinois. And interestingly enough, he also was the only President who was head of a labor union.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn presented his annual budget address March 6. He bragged about reaching a tentative labor agreement with state government’s largest union, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

Quinn says it’s a good deal.

But there is no way to verify that.

The tentative contract is “confidential.”

But confidential for whom?

Quinn obviously knows what is in the agreement. AFSCME workers are being told snippets from their labor leaders.

But lawmakers – and more importantly – taxpayers are left in the dark.

“Pat Quinn has a history of making promises and not following through,” state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said. “We should be able to review this before it is ratified. I’ve asked for it but [have] been told I can’t have it. It’s a strange way we do business in the state of Illinois.”

Here is how AFSCME described the tentative contract in a press release:

“[T]he Bargaining Committee was able to forge an agreement that protects the economic security of union members, staves off massive health care cost increases, and expands important rights on the job.”

Quinn, on the other hand, said this during his speech:

“After 15 hard months at the bargaining table, we reached a landmark three-year agreement that will save Illinois taxpayers more than $900 million in healthcare costs over the life of the contract.”

Both sides would have us believe they got the better end of bargain, but no one is giving details.

Even the $900 million the governor claims to have saved is cloaked in mystery.

“I’m not saying I don’t believe those numbers. But I want to verify them and we haven’t seen the labor contract yet. So we can’t,” state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, told Illinois News Network.

Some of the details being leaked about the agreement indicate that it may not be quite as good a deal for taxpayers as some in the Quinn administration would have you believe.

For example, state retirees who worked at least 20 years now get free health insurance. Quinn had lambasted that benefit less than a year ago as too generous.

Under the proposed contract, retirees will pay an average 5 percent of their health care premium. But even that small savings may be partially negated by the fact that the new contract offers little incentive for retirees to choose less expensive options, such as HMO coverage rather than a top-of-the-line plan.

In case you’re wondering, state retirees in other states pay an average of 54 percent of their own health insurance premiums. In the private sector, retiree health insurance is almost unheard of.

Ironically, Quinn didn’t need to subject retiree health insurance changes to collective bargaining. He could have acted on his own and made a much better deal for the taxpayers.
That’s just one small detail of the contract that we know about. Other details have yet to be analyzed because the proposed contract itself remains secret.

“Sometimes you just have to take it on faith that someone is telling you the truth,” said State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan. “I have no reason to think he is lying to us.”

Sunshine needs to be let into the negotiations. Contracts should be available for public review before they are ratified.

And taxpayers should have a voice in the process.

By Scott Reeder
StreetWise Contributor

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