Bill would stop Pritzker from paying state workers on the side

Bill would stop Pritzker from paying state workers on the side

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has used his private fortune to pay $3 million in state expenses, including boosting salaries of 16 top staffers. Some lawmakers want the ‘unethical’ practice to stop.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker didn’t like the talent pool he could attract for $148,000 to be his chief of staff, so he supplemented that salary with $150,000 from his own pocket.

All told, he supplemented the salaries of 16 top staffers as part of $3 million he spent on state expenses from his estimated $3.4 billion personal fortune.

Private dollars shouldn’t be paying public employees, some lawmakers are saying. One filed a bill to prohibit such moves and another intends to file a bill.

Senate Bill 2320 would stop state employees from receiving compensation from Pritzker or any other private person “for work performed within the scope of his or her employment by a State agency.” It was filed Jan. 8 by state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville. Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, plans to file a House version.

“Are they doubling the salary? Is this a bonus for getting legislation passed? [That] would be of extreme concern, basically, that’s pay for performance when it comes to governance and that would be highly unethical,” Wehrli told The Center Square.

He said Pritzker at a minimum should run the salary expenses through his campaign fund so the expenses are publicly disclosed.

Besides the ethics there is a practical issue, said Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Taxpayers may save a buck, but the practice creates an expectation that top leaders should be super-rich people who pay their own staffers.

“It’s my responsibility as a citizen to contribute to the funding of the political system, and there’s no free lunch,” Redfield told the Chicago Tribune. “We can’t offshore the cost of government to a bunch of rich elected officials. It’s corrosive to the idea that it is a collective thing.”

Pritzker’s office did not respond to The Center Square’s request for comment, but in late December told the Tribune that the governor “believes the state of Illinois and its people are worth investing in.” His spokesman said the practice was necessary to recruit top talent and would not create a precedent for future governors.

Disagreeing was Alisa Kaplan, policy director for Reform for Illinois.

“It provides yet another advantage to wealthy officials and candidates and, depending on the use, can create conflicted loyalties and perhaps even increase the potential for corruption,” she told the Tribune.

Illinois doesn’t need any more corrupting influences. It already ranks as the second-most corrupt state in the nation, where major players appear to value political loyalty over justice for a rape, for example.

State leaders should act on the following reforms, many of which were recommended in a 2009 state report released as the fourth of Illinois’ past 10 former governors was about to head to prison:

  1. Adopting revolving door restrictions on state lawmakers becoming lobbyists.
  2. Empowering the Illinois legislative inspector general to investigate lawmaker corruption. As is, this muzzled watchdog office must seek approval from a panel of state lawmakers before opening investigations, issuing subpoenas and even publishing summary reports.
  3. Mandating state lawmakers recuse themselves from votes in which they have a conflict of interest. There is no current state law or even parliamentary rule requiring Illinois lawmakers to disclose a conflict of interest or to excuse themselves from voting on issues where they have personal or private financial interests.
  4. Reforming the Illinois House rules, which grant more concentrated power to the House speaker than any other legislative rules in the country.
  5. Using objective scoring criteria for capital projects, akin to Virginia’s Smart Scale model. This ensures infrastructure dollars are directed by need rather than clout.
  6. Passing a bipartisan constitutional amendment to end politically drawn legislative maps in Illinois.

Pritzker may have had good intentions in opening his wallet, but Illinois needs the governor’s leadership on anti-corruption reforms much more than it needs his money.

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