Pay raises for state officials?
By ANGIE WATSON
State officials, judges and legislators have not had a pay raise in three years. Yet, during that period unionized state workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have collected annual increases. And some school superintendents and county and city officials make more than the governor and his top cabinet members.
That is no way to run a state, says Kevin Forde, chairman of the Compensation Review Board (CRB), which since its creation in 1984 has proposed salary levels for elected state officials and for top-level appointed officials. "If they [the Illinois House and Senate] don't respond to reasonable and appropriate raises, we're going to be unable to attract competent people to state government and the judiciary," he says.
The board on April 26 recommended a 14.6 percent pay raise for some 1,200 officials under its review. The raise will take effect July 1 unless it is rejected by both chambers of the General Assembly.
Legislators voting on the pay raise would not receive immediate increases. They, like the executive officials, must wait until the beginning of a new term. A constitutional provision prohibits raises during terms of office for legislative and executive officers. Only the judges and the legislature's appointed auditor general and deputy auditor general would receive raises on July 1. State representatives must win in November's election and wait for new terms that begin in January. Of the 59 state senators, 20 incumbents are up for re-election in November and would get raises come January (current terms of other senators do not end until 1992). Executive branch officials, whether elected or appointed, must also await new terms (most begin next January, but some boards and commissions have staggered terms).
The CRB arrived at its 14.6 percent recommendation by increasing the salary levels it had proposed in 1988 by 4.4 percent. That proposal, which had called for a 5 percent increase for 1988 and a 4.5 percent increase for 1989, was rejected by both chambers.
In its report this year the CRB also recommended that, beginning July 1, 1991, salaries automatically rise with inflation. That inflation adjustment would be the lesser of two figures: 5 percent or the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment Cost Index for Public Administration and Government Workers.
The pay raises as recommended would cost the state $11 million or 1/20 of 1 percent of the state's $26 billion budget. Robert M. Mandeville, director of the Bureau of the Budget, says the pay raises are more a political issue than a fiscal one. He says the pay raises because of inflation are a modest increase since the last one. "To argue against the 14 percent increase across four years loses some of its sting if you reduce it to 4.4 percent per year, because that's roughly what inflation is," he says.
Gov. James R. Thompson announced that he supports a pay increase for cabinet members and judges. Thompson reasoned that cabinet members deserve the raise because some are paid less than lower-level state officials whose salaries are not set by the board. The secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation makes $71,321, but the head of the suburban rail system, Metra, earns $140,000. Thompson said judges' salaries do not even match those of some first-year law school graduates.
Lawmakers are uneasy about the message a pay raise would send to taxpayers. This spring's pay raise vote will be during the politically charged election-year atmosphere when lawmakers must choose between tax hikes and spending cuts. Almost immediately opposed were House Republicans and Senate Republicans. So were gubernatorial candidates. Republican Jim Edgar and Democrat Neil F. Hartigan.
Both houses have 30 session days to act from the official filing of the CRB report on April 26. Senate Secretary Linda Hawker estimated in mid-May that, based on current schedules, the last day would be June 28. The first official hearing in both the House and Senate is scheduled at committee meetings May 23. The House in mid-May had also scheduled the pay raise report as its "Special Order of Business" for noon June 15.
Lawmakers are somewhat limited in their options: Besides outright rejection, they can make across-the-board cuts or request a new report, but they may not make random changes.
If legislators reject this year's recommendations, Forde says state salaries will lag even further behind inflation and salaries in other states. He says putting off pay raises eventually makes larger salary increases necessary and, by 1992, Forde says, "The increases required then would be so large that the legislature would run from those too."
June 1990/Illinois Issues/31