Good news from the state capital.
No, not the Illinois capital. But close.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels will award bonuses to 90 percent of his state's 28,000 employees. Each worker's "efficiency dividend" will be $500, $750 or $1,000, depending onhis or her performance. The money will come from a nearly $1.2 billion state surplus — yes, surplus — that Daniels credits in part to state employees helping find ways to save money.
And this isn't just a saga of Indiana competence. In state after state — have you heard the latest fromWisconsin? New York? — Republican and Democratic leaders are reinventing how all sorts of governments function, with positive results.
As soon as Daniels took office in 2005, he ended state employees' collective bargaining rights by executive order. Workers in January received their first raises in three years because, before then, the state didn't have money to pay them. Says Daniels: "The culture in (Indiana) state government has moved a long way" — evidently including state workers' awareness that while the Great Recession whomped the state and its taxpayers, the workers had jobs.
A spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees told The Indianapolis Star that his union is glad public employees' hard work now is being rewarded by the $15 million to $20 million that Daniels unilaterally can award to workers who delivered results.
The Wisconsin story also will leave many Illinois residents envious. You'll recall the noisy accusations that changes to collective bargaining would be the ruination of that state's schools and government services. Well, the new rules are taking effect and the benefits are surfacing. The Appleton Post-Crescent zeroed in on schools in Kaukauna, where the school district is swinging from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus.
With public employees now paying 12.6 percent of their health care costs and contributing 5.8 percent of wages to the state's pension system, the school board president says, "These impacts will allow the district to hire additional teachers (and) reduce projected class sizes" — possibly from 26 students to 23 in elementary classrooms, from 28 to 26 in middle school, and from 31 to 25 in high school.
The district also can afford to give educators more time to help students who need individual and small-group support. And did we mention the new $300,000 merit pay pool for the district's best-performing employees?
Many Democratic pols and union leaders portray Republicans like Daniels and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as oppressors who demonize public employees and undermine governments.
But look at what's happening around the country. This push to reinvent and recalibrate government is becoming bipartisan.
You see it in New York, from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo has persuaded his government's two biggest unions to accept major concessions: a three-year wage freeze followed by raises of 2 percent in years four and five; furlough days; higher employee contributions to health care; and so forth. The New York Timesreports that if workers ratify the contracts, they will be protected from most layoffs for the next two years. "This was a difficult agreement to reach," one of the union presidents explained, "but with our members' jobs in peril and the state's fiscal hardship, we've stepped up and made the necessary sacrifices."
The changes would save Cuomo $450 million in this year's budget — and would prevent 9,800 layoffs of state employees.
Emanuel's effort to press reluctant city unions to accept common-sense work rule changes to close this year's budget deficit is another great example. As is his announcement Monday that City Hall has chosen two private garbage removal companies to compete with city workers in providing curbside recycling here. In six months, the city will see which of those options is most cost-effective. We have high hopes for the efficiency drive instigated by another Democrat, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
A footnote for public school officials in Democrat-dominated Washington, D.C., who on Friday fired 206 teachers for weak performance. They warned another 528 teachers (among a total force of 4,100) that they have one year to improve their work or face the same fate. And catch this: The district's 663 teachers who received the highest ratings — under an evaluation system that grades them in part on their students' test scores — now are eligible for bonuses of $3,000 to … $25,000.
And then there's the state that's increasingly an outlier.
Contrast New York under Cuomo, and even Chicago under Emanuel, with Illinois under Gov. Pat Quinn. He got a political endorsement out of state government's largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, after promising its members nearly two years with no layoffs, and no closings of the obsolete institutions where some of them work. His state is still desperately in debt and he tried to block pay hikes, but an arbitrator ruled Tuesday that the state has to pay the higher wages.
Illinois Statehouse pols get huffy when we report on moves that other governments have made to reimagine themselves — to stress services, results, pay for performance and cost-effectiveness. The Illinoisans' insecurity is natural: They know they simply haven't done the hard work others have to begin rescuing government here from too much spending, too much borrowing — and too many sweetheart promises to unions that represent public employees.