Pritzker: Walk Cabinet to ‘Bring, Keep Great People’

The idea to raise the salaries of Illinois’ top state officials, which culminated this weekend in an 18% pay raise by House of Representatives voters, began with Gov. JB Pritzker.

But the Democratic governor said he originally asked the General Assembly to increase the pay of the administration’s directors to recruit and retain top talent. Pritzker said he would not presume to tell the General Assembly what members would be paid.

“The Legislature is a co-equal branch of government,” Pritzker said Saturday at a community service dedication event at the Central Illinois Foodbank. “They haven’t had an increase since before the Great Recession, and so I can see why there’s interest in doing that.”

Lame-duck lawmakers are scrambling to act on last-minute — and mostly critical and contentious — issues before the 103rd General Assembly is sworn in on Wednesday.

On Friday night, the House backed a plan to increase spending halfway through the budget year, including $850 million for the state’s “rainy day” fund, $400 million to attract business and a $12,904 annual increase in base pay for members of the House and the Senate. On top of that $85,000 salary, most members get at least $12,000 or more in stipends for extra duties.

“We don’t want a Legislature made up only of the wealthy,” said House Majority Leader Greg Harris, the law’s Democratic sponsor in Chicago who is retiring Tuesday. “We want people who can run for office, serve their community, but who can also pay for their family and children.”

The last increase for lawmakers came in 2008, and worried about the optics, lawmakers voted against any increase every year until 2019, when the House surprised the Senate by walking away from an agreed freeze on cost-of-living increases. A frozen COLA increase has since been enacted.

Pritzker originally commissioned a national salary study of jobs comparable to those in his cabinet. This led to salary increases for 21 agency directors who answer to the governor.

Pritzker, a multibillionaire stock investor and philanthropist, began his term as governor in 2019 by supplementing the salaries of key staffers from his own checking account.

“People are willing to take a discounted salary from what they can get in the private sector to get into the public service, but you really have to be a bit competitive. People are putting their kids through college, or they’re paying the mortgage or the rent. …,” Pritzker said. “We just want to be competitive and bring great people and then keep great people in state government.”

From there, negotiators added pay raises for six state constitutional officers. The proposal awaits action by the Senate, which plans to meet Sunday night. For constitutional officers’ removal to take effect immediately, they must be signed into law before those officers are sworn in to four-year terms Monday afternoon in the capital.

The increases for most are in the region of 10%. The lieutenant governor, comptroller and treasurer, for example, would see 10% increases to $160,900. The attorney general and secretary of state would see 9% more in their paychecks, to $183,300. The governor makes $205,700, though Pritzker won’t.

For agency heads, the legislation sets a salary minimum but allows the governor to go above it. And each will receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment. The top salary set in the bill is $200,000, which would go to heads of eight agencies: the departments of Children and Family Services, Corrections, Human Services, Innovation and Technology, Public Health, State Police, Transportation and Veterans Affairs.

The Senate’s consideration of the issue leaves less time for the session’s two other main issues: House-passed bans on certain semi-automatic weapons and legal action outside of Illinois aimed at people who travel here for abortions or gender-affirming medical treatment.

The gun ban, which stems from the July 4 parade in Highland Park where a gunman killed seven and injured 30, is sponsored by Rep. Bob Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat who attended the parade. It would ban nearly seven dozen specific types of rapid-fire pistols and rifles and is likely to face a competing bill from the Senate body.

Similarly, work is underway in the Senate on a separate proposal that would protect people who receive abortions or gender-affirming treatments — or those who provide them — from lawsuits arising in states that have restricted access to these procedures, especially abortions, since the Supreme Court last . summer overturned Roe v. Wade.

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Follow political writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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