SPRINGFIELD — The state’s new contract with its largest employee union will cost taxpayers an additional $242.3 million over the next four years, officials said Tuesday.

But, because of the terms of the contract, the cash-strapped state will only have to pay an estimated $8 million in the current fiscal year, with the bulk of the added expense coming after Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s current term ends in 2010.

Under the contract ratified last week, workers covered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 will see raises totaling 15.2 percent over the life of the contract.

The cost of those raises is an additional $376 million.

But Sue Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, said changes to the health insurance program could reduce the overall cost of the contract to $242.3 million. For example, the contract calls for the creation of an employee wellness program that aims to cut down on employee health insurance costs.

State Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, said back-loading a contract to be more costly in later years is not uncommon.

Hannig, the lead budget negotiator for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the more expensive years of the contract will come after Blagojevich’s current term ends in 2010.

“This is not a new concept. It pushes the costs into the out years. That’s been typical of other governors too,” Hannig said.

After this year’s $8 million cost, the average additional cost of the contract in each of its remaining three years is about $78 million.

The contract, which covers 37,000 employees — including prison guards and office workers — was approved by 93 percent of the workers during voting over the past two weeks.

The General Assembly plays no role in the negotiations, which are between the governor’s administration and each union. Lawmakers are left to approve the money to meet the terms of the agreement.

“We don’t have a say. We’re kind of at a big disadvantage,” Hannig said.

In a message to those covered by the contract, AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer said the contract represents a “real victory for the unity and solidarity” of the union.

Contact Kurt Erickson at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-789-0865.

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