Times are tough. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the FY2011 total budget shortfall facing states will reach $140 billion. Here in my hometown of Chicago, Mayor Daley announced this week that we are facing a historic deficit of $654 million. And to pile on top of that the State of Illinois has had its bond rating downgraded to a level that provokes the term “junk bond” in the same sentence. Revenues are simply not supporting expenditures.
In recent years, we have witnessed many different methods for balancing budgets. The one that threatens our profession the most is the use of furloughs on select portions of the workforce. In response to questions regarding pending staff raises, Illinois Governor Quinn gave non-union staff (2,700 out of over 50,000) 24 furlough days, or a 9.2 percent pay cut. This brings the state a savings of $18 million on a year when we have a $13 billion deficit. And Illinois is not the only one doing this. States and municipalities all over the country are reducing non-bargaining unit workdays of staff. But what is the effect of these actions?
The demoralizing effect alone is amazing. Contrary to the myth, government work is difficult, requires long hours, and is at times, a thankless job. We do it because we believe in the services we provide; we believe in creating good government. Many of the people I talk to who are subject to furlough days are unhappy; they have decided not to put forth the extra effort to achieve an end result. Trying to get your job done on the days that you are at work is difficult because the person that you need to talk to is likely on a furlough day. Many are considering employment outside of government. And for what? To save 1% on a budget deficit when what legislators should really be considering is how to even out revenues and expenditures? Legislators do not want to raise taxes when their offices are on the line. They don’t want to face the difficult question of reducing services either. Utilization of furlough days is only delaying the inevitable: we need a fundamental and structural change in how we budget and spend government dollars. In the meantime, we threaten to scare off the talent that we have.