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Taxpayers Funding State Employees Who Show Up for Work at Closed Facilities

Union says there is no shortage of work as lawsuit keeps employees on job for now

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    Illinois taxpayers are paying state employees who show up for work at shuttered museums and other closed facilities at a cost of $1.6 million and counting, according to state salary records analyzed by NBC 5 Investigates. NBC 5's Chris Coffey reports. (Published Monday, Jan. 18, 2016)

    Illinois taxpayers are paying state employees who show up for work at shuttered museums and other closed facilities at a cost of $1.6 million and counting, according to state salary records analyzed by NBC 5 Investigates.

    With no end in sight to Illinois’ budget crisis, Governor Bruce Rauner began closing facilities and slashing state jobs last Summer in a move to cut costs. The savings were to amount to about five million dollars a year.

    The governor grounded the state’s passenger air fleet on July 1st and later announced the closing of all five of its museums and the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in downstate Sparta. Layoff notices were issued to more than 150 unionized employees at six state agencies.

    But the so-called budget cuts are still costing you money.

    NBC5 Investigates ran the numbers on the state payroll database and discovered you’re still shelling out for the salaries of dozens of state employees to show up for work, every day, at the closed state facilities. The cost over the past seven months has been $1,676,775 for workers at the museums, shooting range and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics.

    The Rauner administration delayed the scheduled September 30, 2015 effective date of the more than 150 layoffs in state government due to legal action taken by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and other unions that represent state employees. While a number of managers have been let go or left on their own, the pending lawsuit is keeping union workers on the job – including most of the people who curate, research, and guard the museum relics.

    An AFSCME spokesperson said while there is no shortage of work, the state lacks appropriation authority without a budget.

    “The state has the funds. It’s collecting tax revenue every day,” wrote AFSCME spokesperson Anders Lindall in an email to NBC 5 Investigates.

    State lawmakers passed a bill late last year designed to keep the museums open. But without a budget in place, some say any legislation addressing the museums would result in an unfunded mandate, if approved.

    The bill has yet to be signed by Governor Rauner.

    “While we can’t speak to the intentions of the legislature, the governor’s office has no further comment beyond that the bill is under review,” said Rauner spokesperson Catherine Kelly.

    Still, the public is being denied access to the state’s most prized exhibits.

    The state’s main museum in Springfield is used to welcoming forty thousand school children each year, according to museum board chair member Mary Jo Potter.

    “I think it’s one of the saddest situations that we have in the state right now. I’m very upset by it,” Potter said.

    The museum system’s operating budget is around $6 million a year, according to museum board members.

    In August, the state sold its remaining surplus aircraft for over $2.5 million as part of continued efforts to reduce its aircraft fleet.

    Guy Tridgell, spokesperson for IDOT, said the state still has a need for pilots and associated staff of a Sikorsky Helicopter and four single-engine Cessnas, which are used to perform aerial surveys, emergency responses and safety inspections at airports throughout the state.

    “No pilots have been grounded,” Tridgell wrote to NBC 5 Investigates. “Just the passenger fleet last summer as part of an effort to reduce costs.”

    Tridgell said IDOT has initiated the layoff process to reduce the number of union pilots to two and eliminate ten other positions. He added the savings will be as much as $3 million annually.

    Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform told NBC 5 Investigates the closings are little more than a “patchwork” cut that doesn’t address the big picture.

    “I think a lot of money-saving measures have been put in to place just to make the public feel like something’s being done,” Brune said. “The truth of the matter is, until we have a budget in place, this chaos remains.”

    The closed museums could end up costing the public even more. Officials with the Illinois State Museum in Springfield said the facility is at risk for losing its accreditation, which means the state could lose out on lucrative grants and money for research.

    While the state’s museum doors are locked to the public, NBC 5 Investigates observed several museum employees arranging window displays for visitors who walk by the Illinois State Museum Chiago Gallery on the second floor of the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.

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