Editorial | Pay raises for top state jobs

Editorial | Pay raises for top state jobs

It takes competitive salaries to attract talent, but in certain cases, there's a limit to what money can buy.

Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker won't take office until Monday, but he's already receiving a warm and cooperative response from his fellow party members, as well as Republicans in the General Assembly.

Shortly after Pritzker stated he needs to offer higher salaries for top executive branch officials, legislators announced they would move quickly to accommodate him. The new Legislature took office Wednesday.

Salaries of department directors and assistant directors have been capped at $150,000 for years now, and Pritzker said he needs to offer more than that to attract the most talented administrators.

So legislators are expected to approve an increase of 15 percent — up to about $172,000 a year — for about 50 executive posts spread among the state's 27 state agencies.

Pritzker, of course, is correct — it often does take higher salaries to attract the best of the best. While the corrections department director's salary has been limited to $150,000 in Illinois, DOC directors in big states like California and New York are $265,000 and $190,000, respectively.

At the same time, states smaller than Illinois — Connecticut and Maryland — pay their prison directors more than Illinois.

So an adjustment upward is not only reasonable but necessary. It was equally necessary when outgoing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner made the same request of the Legislature, but the state's poisonous partisan politics prompted the Democratic-controlled Legislature to reject it out of hand.

But no one should be fooled into thinking that higher salaries that lead to the hiring of better administrators will result in improved operations of state agencies.

That might be the case in some departments, like revenue for example. But some agencies — corrections, children and family services — face problems that are so intractable as to be borderline impossible to adequately address.

Nonetheless, the state must bring the most administrative talent it can find to its statutory duties. Raising salaries probably will help at the margins.

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