Last week I authored a blog on a Chicago Tribune investigation on the Illinois Tollway's use of overtime pay. Here is the agency's response:
We welcome the opportunity to respond to questions that have been raised about overtime issues at the Illinois Tollway and our responsibility to be good stewards of toll revenues.
In these challenging economic times, we are all under pressure to live within our means. That’s why, before we introduced our new 12-year, $15 billion capital program, Move Illinois: The Illinois Tollway Driving the Future, the Tollway’s leadership first focused on putting our fiscal house in order.
We wanted to make sure that our operations were honest and efficient, ensuring that we were giving our customers a good value for their money. As a user-fee system, the Tollway receives no state or federal tax dollars to fund maintenance or operations. Tolls are used to fund system maintenance and operations, debt service and roadway infrastructure improvement projects.
As part of our review of operations, we kept a close eye on overtime pay, as well as overall maintenance and operations expenses, to achieve management efficiencies agencywide. We implemented a variety of cost-savings measures across the board, including reducing unnecessary overtime pay. In addition, we’ve increased transparency and accountability to keep our customers informed of Tollway activities every step of the way.
The Tollway has worked hard to control expenses wherever possible, even as operating costs have continued to escalate—pension costs, workers compensation, health care, road salt and credit-card expenses, to name a few. The $105.7 million allocated for salaries and wages projected for 2012 is basically flat when compared to the year before, and 2011 expenses were actually down more than 3% from 2010—strong indications that we are fulfilling our pledge to do more with less.
In fact, the total number of employees at the Tollway is down more than 9% since 2008, when the agency had about 1,650 employees. At the end of 2011, we had 1,500 filled positions. If staffing levels had remained the same, we would be spending $8 million more annually. And yet, despite this reduction in staff, our overtime costs are down 25% since 2008. Tollway overtime expenses as a percentage of employee wages have dropped from 5.6% in 2008 to 4.25% in 2011. Overtime paid has decreased from $5.1 million in 2008 to $3.8 million in 2011.
The reality is that the Illinois Tollway is a 24/7 operation that presents its fair share of unique and challenging issues related to staffing and scheduling. Our business requires that all routes along the system be staffed by money truck drivers, maintenance workers and toll collectors. In many cases, it actually costs the Tollway less to pay existing employees overtime, compared to hiring more full-time employees and paying additional wages and benefits.
We recognize that our responsibility as stewards of the public trust requires us to balance the need to get our work done efficiently and at the least cost possible. And, we believe our track record of managing overtime is strong given the challenges of running a major transportation agency.
We will continue to be vigilant and welcome public input into every aspect of our operations. Beginning this month, we will post monthly overtime reports on the Tollway’s website to make sure our customers and others have access to this data. This is another step for us in terms of enhancing the transparency and accountability of the Tollway.