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Our view: Reasonable wage caps are needed

State legislators are discussing placing wage increase caps on state workers. Frankly, we can’t imagine why they’re just considering this now.

That’s not to criticize the important work that many state employees do, from investigating fraud and child abuse to issuing driver’s licenses to the hundreds of other tasks that they perform. It’s a comment on the abysmal financial situation that our state is in.

With a public pension deficit of more than $80 billion, the state won’t be able to afford to pay its retired workers in the future unless major changes are made to the various pension systems.

Illinois also owes its vendors billions of dollars more, and state government has an annual budget deficit of more than $1 billion. So how can it expect to give even small salary increases to current employees, let alone significant ones?

If the state were a private business, it likely would have been bankrupt long ago, with padlocks and chains clasping the Capital Building.

Of course, government is not the same as a private company. Private companies won’t find profits in investigating child abuse or caring for the disabled and the poor.

Despite the obvious differences, that doesn’t mean that state government should act in the exact opposite manner as private business by increasing expenses through significant wage increases as its financial house crumbles around it.

Spending cuts already have been made across state government, from social services and prisons to education and law enforcement. It only makes good fiscal sense that wages be capped.

Over the past several years, private businesses and industries across the nation have had to reduce salaries, freeze them, and cut jobs just to survive.

It’s unpleasant for the companies and the employees, but a necessity to keep their doors open.

When unemployment is at 8 or 9 percent, when faced with the choice between a flat salary, a reduction in wages or unemployment, most people would rather work.

Even public union representatives understand the dire financial situation that Illinois is in, even though they are pushing for salary increases.

Despite union pressure, we expect our elected officials to push back and be at least as concerned about taxpayers as they are about the sensitivity of public sector employee unions.

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