Hard times for Illinois Citizens, but not for governor's staff

Worth Reading By JOHN O'CONNOR

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has handed out raises—some of more than 20 percent—to his staff while proclaiming a message of "shared sacrifice" and planning spending cuts of $1.4 billion because the state is awash in debt.

The Democrat has given 43 salary increases averaging 11.4 percent to 35 staffers in the past 15 months, according to an Associated Press analysis of records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

They include a $24,000-a-year bump for the man promoted to shepherd the state through the fiscal storm. Budget Director David Vaught got a 20 percent raise to bring his pay to $144,000 in October when he moved to his new position from Quinn's staff, where he was a senior adviser.

Quinn said Tuesday the raises did not prevent him from making deep spending cuts in his office.

"Overall, the amount of money spent by taxpayers on the governor's office is significantly lower today than it was when I took office," he said at a Chicago news conference planned for him to sign legislation to speed up the processing of evidence in rape cases.

Quinn said he'd cut spending in the office by 25 percent since he took over 17 months ago. But his staff said spending was down 10 percent in the budget year that just ended, with plans for another 25 percent reduction this year.

They did not specify what had been cut.

Lawmakers, whom Quinn has asked to raise income taxes and borrow billions to meet its obligations for employee pensions reacted with skepticism and anger.

"It's insulting," said Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat who voted "no" on Quinn's proposal to borrow $3.7 billion for the pension payment that the House OK'd but Senate has not.

"It shows how out of touch he is with the real world, where businesses are freezing salaries and in some cases laying people off," Franks said.

Half of the raises are the result of promotion or a change in job title, Quinn spokeswoman Marlena Jentz said.

But others were reported as "salary adjustments," such as a 10.4 percent bump in January for deputy budget director Gladyse Taylor, to $110,000, and a 7 percent jump in May 2009 to bring associate budget director Malcolm Weems' pay to $92,000.

They were based on "re-evaluated work output, additional duties and overall performance," Jentz said.

Weems now makes $110,000 after he was promoted in January to deputy director and chief of staff with a 19 percent raise.

Giving Quinn's staff big pay hikes while he slashes spending in education and health care services doesn't sit well with lawmakers and could hamper the governor's efforts to convince them to support borrowing for state pensions.

Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat who opposes the borrowing plan despite heavy lobbying, said there might be circumstances where a raise is warranted for someone taking on significant new duties. But he encouraged the governor to follow his own call for shared sacrifice and "hold the line."

Employees "might be having to accept a little more responsibility, but generally speaking, the state of Illinois is not in a position to be issuing raises at this point," Noland said.

Along with cuts in the governor's office, Jentz said the budget office cut spending by 17 percent last year. Quinn's proposed spending plan had a 10 percent increase in the budget office this year, documents show.

"We have fewer people doing more, and that's what the public wants," Quinn said.

The overall payroll for the governor's staff and his budget office was slightly lower in May than last July—$123,000 less, or just under 2 percent, according to state payroll records. But other records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that dozens of employees reporting to the governor's office are paid by other agencies under Quinn's control.

And, payroll records show 124 employees in the governor's office and budget office in May, compared to 125 in July 2009 and 122 in February 2009, just after Quinn took office.