Lame duck General Assembly pushes for state government pay hikes

By Joe Kaiser, Illinois Policy Institute | Jan 8, 2019

The outgoing Illinois General Assembly may soon pass a bill that would raise the salaries of incoming state department heads, with the intent of sending it to the governor’s desk once Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker takes office.

It’s a procedural loophole that would ultimately cost taxpayers.

An amendment to Senate Bill 3531 would hike salaries for state department directors, assistant directors and secretaries by 15 percent. The House Executive Committee adopted the amendment Jan. 7 during lame-duck session.

Specifically, the amendment states, “for terms beginning after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 100th General Assembly, the annual salary of the director or secretary and assistant director or assistant secretary of each department … shall be an amount equal to 15% more than the annual salary of the respective officer in effect as of December 31, 2018.”

Those departmental salaries are currently capped at 85 percent of the governor’s annual salary. While outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner did not accept his state salary, his predecessor Pat Quinn earned $177,412 – fourth-highest among all U.S. governors at the time. Pritzker will also forgo a state salary. Shortly taking office, Rauner received criticism for paying his top staff significantly more than Quinn’s.

The amendment also holds that beginning July 1, 2019 and each July 1 thereafter, these top state employees would receive salary increases based on a cost-of-living adjustment.

Though lawmakers would vote to pass the bill during the final days of the current General Assembly, state leaders would likely wait until Pritzker is sworn in Jan. 14 before sending it to the governor’s desk. The 100th General Assembly’s term ends Jan. 9, when the 101st General Assembly will be inaugurated. Pritzker will be inaugurated the following week.

While one might argue that high salaries could help retain and attract talent, the state is also not in a position to hastily give out large salary increases its taxpayers can’t afford. This is especially true considering the effects it would have on future pension payouts.

Any large pay increases for state leaders should be given an appropriate amount of consideration and debate – not rammed through during the final hours of lame-duck session.

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