If only we could all vote to raise our own pay

FILE - Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker looks to supporters after he defeated GOP challenger Darren Bailey on Nov. 8, 2022, in Chicago. On Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, a day after Illinois House Democrats approved pay raises for top government officials in late-night budget legislation — include a 16% hike for them — Pritzker told reporters that he only asked lawmakers to approve increase for his departments heads in order to attract top talent. He said the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and he is focused on the executive branch. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Old habits die hard in the General Assembly.

They did it again.

Our selfless public servants in the state House and Senate used the waning hours of the lame-duck legislative session to vote themselves another pay raise.

They were in a festive mood, spreading the taxpayers’ wealth around to a variety of state officials.

Gov. JB Pritzker didn’t get into the fun because, being a multibillionaire, he doesn’t take a state salary. But he took credit for kicking off the feeding frenzy by proposing that heads of cabinet departments deserve more money.

According to news accounts, the legislation sets a minimum salary for department heads but allows the governor to go above that.

They also are eligible for other pay hikes.

The top salary is $200,000 and goes to those who head departments such as Corrections, the Illinois State Police, Public Health and Children and Family Services.

But Pritzker waded into the legislative-pay-raise issue, that our poor solons would be reduced to selling apples on street corners if they weren’t able to organize another raid on the state’s treasury.

“They haven’t had a raise since the Great Recession, and so I can see why there’s an interest in doing that,” Pritzker said.

Say what? No raise since the Great Recession? Well, if a pay raise is defined as getting an increase in pay, our legislators have enjoyed regular increases since the 2008-09 crash in the real estate and banking industries.

The record shows that legislators were paid $65,353 in the 2008 fiscal year and that they have received a series of raises since them. Before they boosted their pay to $85,000 this year, they were up to $73,345.

But they didn’t call those pay raises; they called them cost-of-living increases.

In addition to their new salary of $85,000 a year, all but a handful of House and Senate leaders of both parties get extra pay – called stipends – for filling leadership roles like speaker, majority leader, committee chairman or ranking committee member.

And let’s not forget their per diem payments when they’re in Springfield.

The bottom line is the salary of most legislators approaches six figures.

The salaries of the lieutenant governor, comptroller and treasurer will jump from $143,400 to $160,900, while pay for the attorney general and secretary of state increases from $165,400 to $183,300.

The raises were wrapped up in a voluminous spending package.

Members of the public may be disgusted by this kind of self-service. But legislators are counting on them to get over it.

After all, the election was in November. Among those voting for the pay package are House and Senate members who are leaving office.

Among those receiving the pay raises are new legislators who didn’t vote for it.

The whole process is a politician protection racket, as if they aren’t already insulated well enough by the public’s inattention to public affairs and fading memories.

Champaign News-Gazette