Lame-duck Illinois Senate passes pay hikes for state department leaders

Lame-duck Illinois Senate passes pay hikes for state department leaders

The outgoing Illinois Senate voted with the House in approving large pay increases for state department heads. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, though likely not until J.B. Pritzker is sworn in.

Following the same move from the House, the outgoing Illinois Senate passed a bill Jan. 9 – in the final moments of its last day – 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 could ultimately cost taxpayers.

The amendment to Senate Bill 3531 would hike salaries for state department directors, assistant directors and secretaries by 15 percent if signed into law. The House Executive Committee adopted the amendment Jan. 7 during lame-duck session. It passed the full House Jan. 8 by a 68-37 margin, with two lawmakers voting “present.” It passed the Senate Jan. 9 by a 33-21 margin.

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 percent more than the annual salary of the respective officer in effect as of Dec. 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 after 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 voted to pass bills during the final days of the 100th General Assembly, state leaders would likely wait until Pritzker is sworn in Jan. 14 before sending many of them to the governor’s desk. The 100th General Assembly’s term ended Jan. 9, when the 101st General Assembly was inaugurated a week before Pritzker’s inauguration.

While some argue that high salaries could help retain and attract talent, the state is 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.

Neither senators nor representatives did taxpayers any favors by pushing this bill through so suddenly. Any large pay increases for state leaders should have been given an appropriate amount of consideration and debate – not rammed through during the final hours of lame-duck session.

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