Committee hearing delayed on Speaker Madigan's bill to fire state employees

Doug Finke

Work continued Wednesday on legislation to rid state government of thousands of politically appointed workers and board members brought on by former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

Sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, the legislation was scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the House Executive Committee. However, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the bill still wasn't ready for a committee hearing.

"The administration wants to develop (some changes)," Brown said. He declined to discuss them.

Bob Reed, a spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn, said administration staff "are in discussion with Speaker Madigan and Senate President (John) Cullerton's office to ensure the bill is properly focused and also financially and administratively responsible." He declined further comment.

Madigan's bill essentially puts thousands of people on notice that they will be out of work after 60 days unless Quinn opts to rehire them. In general, the people targeted are not covered by Civil Service protections.

Many lawmakers believe the bill needs to be rewritten to cover fewer people.

"There are a lot of career state workers who have moved up in the system because they've done a good job," said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield. "These people ought not to be on the chopping block."

"I don't think it's something the General Assembly ought to be involved in, unless the governor asked for (the bill)," said Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said not only should the list be narrowed, but that the identities of those affected by the bill should be made available before he and other lawmakers are asked to vote on it. So far, Sullivan said, he's seen nothing that lists the jobs affected or the people who hold them.

Shortly after Madigan announced his push for HB4450, The State Journal-Register set out to learn which workers would be affected. But getting those answers has proven increasingly difficult.

Madigan, at the news conference last Thursday announcing the measure, said 90 boards and commissions and about 3,000 employees would be covered. But he said he did not have a list of those affected, and subsequent efforts to get such a list from his office were unsuccessful.

The newspaper on Friday then requested a list of the 3,000 employees covered by Madigan's bill, along with their job locations, from the state Department of Central Management Services – the main personnel agency for state government.

CMS spokeswoman Alka Nayyar said the agency could at least provide workers who are covered by the state's Personnel Code, which would be many of those covered by Madigan's bill. CMS then provided a list of about 2,800 workers late Tuesday morning.

The newspaper then turned that list into a searchable database on its Web site while noting that the database could not be completely tied to Madigan's bill, for several reasons. CMS noted that it could not determine who exactly would be affected because the measure had not yet been finalized.

The CMS list included some boards and commissions that Madigan's bill does not cover, but did not include personnel from many other boards and commissions that would be affected by the measure. The newspaper also noted some non-Personnel Code employees who would be covered by Madigan's bill, such as state agency directors, were not included in the database because CMS does not track their employment.

Posting of the database on The Dome (http://thedome.sj-r.com) drew huge interest with a whopping 140,000 page views. It also drew calls and e-mails from state workers complaining that they were wrongly included on the list.

The most common complaint came from workers with longevity.

Madigan's bill only covers workers hired or appointed to their jobs or boards and commissions spots since January 1999 – covering ex-Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. The newspaper did not request start or seniority dates for affected workers, and CMS' database did not include that information.

Nayyar said that was because of the way CMS tracks these workers on personnel reports and was "part of the reason why I wanted to underscore that the list provides more of a snapshot of our current situation."

That information was not able to be provided to the newspaper on Wednesday, so it's still unclear how many workers in the database would not be affected by Madigan's bill because of their seniority.

Some workers also complained they and colleagues were wrongly classified in the database. Some said they were union workers and not covered by Madigan's bills, while others said their job classification was wrong. The newspaper asked CMS whether the information it provided had flaws, but CMS did not respond to that inquiry.

Several workers were asked if they wanted to register their complaints for this story, but they declined. In many cases they also did not provide specifics about which employees were incorrectly included in the database, preventing the newspaper from providing more pointed questions for CMS to answer about its list.

Nayyar said the list provided by CMS was the most accurate available and acknowledged some workers could be classified incorrectly in it because positions are constantly being considered for change within state government.

"I think you might agree that it would be overly burdensome to pull specific records to verify each and every person on the list. Similarly, it will be difficult to pull each individual's start date," Nayyar said.

Nayyar said CMS could provide additional information on workers affected once the measure is finalized.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 ordoug.finke@sj-r.com. Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 orryan.keith@sj-r.com.