Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday he was prepared to go to court against the unions to defend his decision to cancel pay raises for nearly 30,000 state workers and he repeatedly blamed lawmakers for leaving him no choice by not setting aside the money.
"It's very clear that the money wasn't available for the raises and therefore there's really nothing I could do to clear it up," Quinn said after a Chicago press conference where he touted a $10 million program to give teens and young people internships and jobs in state parks, park districts and nature centers.
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Quinn made the surprise announcement Friday that workers wouldn't be getting the 2 percent increase they were expecting that day. The state's largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it had no idea Quinn was considering such action.
The raises will save the state about $75 million as it continues to cope with a budget crisis. The state still faces a shortfall of at least $6 billion and possibly more than $9 billion despite cutting costs and raising the state income tax.
Quinn brushed off suggestions that his action came as a surprise. "Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the budget would know this," he said.
Quinn's budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the governor began thinking about cancelling the raises after lawmakers approved the budget on May 30. He did not tell workers they were losing the money until July 1.
Quinn insisted he's following the law because he can't spend money the General Assembly doesn't appropriate but AFSCME has condemned Quinn's actions.
"The General Assembly neither did nor can compel the government to violate a legally binding collective bargaining agreement," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31.
Lindall said the union was considering its legal options and believes it has a "very strong case in a court of law."
Quinn wasn't concerned about what could potentially be a long and costly legal battle. "If they decide to sue that's their right and we'll be happy to meet them in court," he said.
While Quinn said repeatedly that lawmakers did not set aside money in the budget to pay the raises, that's not entirely accurate.
It's true that lawmakers cut spending for salaries despite the scheduled raises. The Corrections Department, for instance, saw personnel money drop by 7 percent. But budgets don't distinguish between regular salaries and raises; they simply give the governor a certain amount of money for employees. The governor decides how to spend the money.
So, potentially, Quinn could have cut some jobs and used the limited money available to pay the full raises to remaining employees. Or he could have paid everyone the higher salaries and come back to lawmakers in October and requested more money. He also had the option of vetoing the budget and telling legislators they failed to include enough money for personnel.
House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman said it's up to Quinn's administration and state agencies to decide how to spend the money lawmakers appropriate.
"We don't get involved in that level of detail," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Quinn's decision to end the raises will be added "to the list of items in the current year's budget that need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months."