By BEVERLEY SCOBELL
Compensation Review Board:
The Illinois General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected the 1992 report prepared by the Compensation Review Board proposing a 14.6 percent raise in salary for legislators, judges, constitutional officers and department heads. A 3.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) agreed to in 1990 took effect on July 1.
The June 3 Senate vote of 53-4 mirrored an earlier 113-2 House vote to reject this year's report. Both houses must reject the report, which is filed by May 1 every two years, or the raises automatically go into effect on July 1. With the exception of accepting a 1990 recommendation for an annual COLA (5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower), the legislators have rejected the last three reports issued by the Compensation Review Board.
The sponsor of the resolution that rejected the 1992 report. Sen. Thomas A. Dunn (D-42, Joliet), said that with the General Assembly cutting many critically needed programs in education, human services and health care "to accept these raises would be an insult for all of those residents of the state who depend on services and programs." The one-sided nature of the vote indicates an acknowledgment by both Democratic and Republican legislators that voting themselves a pay raise in this election year would be political suicide.
Senate President Philip J. Rock (D-8, Oak Park), who is not seeking reelection and was one of only four senators who voted not to reject the report, recognized the politics of the vote. "The Compensation Review Board recommendations, made as they were by 12 citizens representing a broad spectrum of Illinois business, labor and academics, were very reasonable. Unfortunately, the climate is such that elected public officials don't seem to be able to have the will to deal with the question of adequate compensation."
A group of 28 Republicans led by Rep. Timothy V. (Tim) Johnson (R-104, Urbana) went a step further and called for the abolition of the Compensation Review Board. "It's reprehensible that a body created to ensure equity and guard the public purse strings can even suggest pay raises at a time of drastic budget cuts to our needy individuals — the elderly, the disabled and children," Johnson said. "In my opinion, the board has outlived its usefulness."
The Compensation Review Board was created by the General Assembly in 1984, in part, as a response to the public anger over a 40 percent pay raise that lawmakers voted themselves in the lame-duck session after the 1978 general election. That outcry led directly to the 1980 Cutback Amendment that eliminated cumulative voting and reduced the size of the House from 177 to 118 members. To make the process of pay raises less political and more professional, the legislature created the independent, volunteer board with the 12 members appointed by the four legislative leaders. The board is intended to be a dispassionate body that can offer an objective periodic review of the salary levels of judges, elected officials and top executives in the executive branch. The Compensation Review Board bases its recommendations on what similar jobs pay in neighboring states, what subordinates earn within agencies and what the board believes is required to attract and retain qualified employees.
Kevin Forde, chairman of the Compensation Review Board, believes the board does a necessary job in providing some order to the pay scale in Illinois government. "When we were created, the picture for compensation for state employees was just a mess ... we called it a crazy quilt." Forde explains that directors of small agencies were paid more than directors of large agencies, and many employees within agencies were paid more than their directors. With the acceptance of the first two reports (January 1985 and May 1986), those inequities were eliminated. However, Forde says that with the rejection of the last three reports those inequities have reappeared.
One of the three specific points Forde made in his testimony at the Senate Executive Committee hearing on the 1992 report was that salaries of directors are lower than the salaries of people they supervise. Forde also noted that the director of the State Police earns less than many local police chiefs in the state. For example. State Police Director Terrance W. Gainer earns $68,732 whereas Chicago Police Supt. Matt Rodriguez makes $107,500 a year. Chiefs of police of smaller cities like Rockford at $79,890 and Peoria at $70,955 earn more than Gainer.
Disparities in pay at the Department of Corrections, the agency with the fourth-largest budget, are also mentioned in the Compensation Review Board's report. Director Howard A. Peters III, who took a $3,300 pay cut as warden at Pontiac to head the agency, earns $68,732. Twelve of his subordinates make more than he does.
According to Forde, the reason inequities in the pay scale occur is that employees in the code departments (those under the Civil Administrative Code) are getting step increases and other kinds of increases over the years, and the director isn't getting anything. "I mean, this is stupid," says Forde. He believes the situation would get worse
12/July 1992/Illinois Issues
if there were no compensation review board, or if lawmakers continually reject the reports. Forde believes, however, that as long as the reports are being prepared and being considered, at least someone is keeping track of who is making what: "Otherwise they wouldn't even know."
The second point that Forde, a Chicago attorney and former president of the Chicago Bar Association, emphasized in his testimony was judicial salaries. "We recognize that judicial salaries in Illinois are much too low," testified Forde. Richard W. Austin, testifying as spokesman for the Joint Illinois State Bar Association- Chicago Bar Association Committee on Judicial Salaries, pointed out that a magistrate in the federal system performing relatively minor duties receives almost $20,000 more in salary than an Illinois Supreme Court justice. As another example, Austin reported that a federal trial court judge earns $45,000 more than a trial judge in the state court system. Forde stressed that judicial pay, in particular, should be related to judicial pay in other states, to the federal government and to what lawyers can earn in private practice.
The third point Forde stressed in his testimony was a need to amend the Compensation Review Act to allow the report to be filed in odd-numbered years rather than even-numbered years. "We are aware of political realities and recognize that a report like this, filed only months before a general election, does not receive the dispassionate and objective review it deserves." But a change in the timing of the report would be fought. Indeed, Rep. Penny Pullen (R-55, Park Ridge), who cosponsored HB 4214 to eliminate the Compensation Review Board, said, "They are scheduled to report in even-numbered years precisely so that pay raises that are not truly warranted will be rejected."
Sen. Dunn says he is torn on the issue of eliminating the Compensation Review Board. "The public has always objected when we set our own pay raises. ... So I am faced with returning the decision to the body [General Assembly] or doing away with a commission that so far seems to have worked." Dunn adds that he cannot recall anyone reporting to him abuses by the board that would warrant its demise at this point. For an average cost of $16,000 annually (for the most recent two-year period) required to perform the board's functions, Dunn feels the public "has gotten its money's worth" from the Compensation Review Board.
The cost to the state to implement the recommendations of the 1992 Compensation Review Board would have been $15.1 million (including fiscal year 1993 COLA) for the approximately 1,100 state employees and officials affected. Forde contends that the increases would have had little impact, about 0.05 percent, on a budget of $28 billion.
Both Rep. Johnson and Sen. Dunn agree that the General Assembly is becoming too professional (over 50 percent call themselves full-time legislators) and want the assembly to be a more diverse representation of the citizenry. On the other hand, Sen. Dunn joins Senate President Rock in voicing concern that government officials be paid enough to attract and retain competent employees. The former interim director of the Department of Corrections, Kenneth L. McGinnis, left Illinois in 1991 to head the the Michigan Department of Corrections, where he is paid $83,100, a 26.2 percent pay increase.
Forde testified that the board was cognizant of the fiscal condition of the state and limited its recommendations to reinstating compensation lost through inflation. "But for the unique and difficult financial circumstances of the state at this time," Forde submitted, "we would be recommending much more substantial increases, particularly for the judicial branch and a number of directors of key administrative agencies."
Many Illinoisans are feeling the recession and would not look kindly on representatives who voted themselves any pay raise. But for 1,100 state employees, who have not had a raise in base pay since 1987 and can expect only cost-of-living increases until 1994 at the earliest, the "servant" in public servant will have more meaning.