Guest Commentary | It looks like business as usual in Illinois

Guest Commentary | It looks like business as usual in Illinois

By BRAD HALBROOK

The lame-duck session of the General Assembly is never dull, and this year was no exception.

In the closing moments of the 100th General Assembly, the Legislature pushed through a measure incoming Gov. J.B. Pritzker wanted to increase the pay of his top-level department heads.

In one of his first actions as governor, Pritzker signed the legislation, giving top-level staff a 15 percent pay raise. In addition, 20 of Pritzker's top staff members will have their salaries doubled. Pritzker is using private funds to offset some of the costs for doubling those salaries.

On the surface, this does not seem like all that big of a deal. After all, these are tough times for the state of Illinois. Pritzker ran on a promise to solve these problems, and as a new governor, he certainly deserves to have a good team around him to solve the problems facing our state, and a good team costs money.

We get it.

But at what point does this become more about rewarding insiders and less about solving the problems facing the state?

When former Gov. Bruce Rauner took office, he brought in budget consultant Donna Arduin to advise him on budget issues.

Arduin had worked for several governors across the country on budget issues, and so at first blush, it was not that out of the norm to bring someone like her on to advise on budget issues.

The catch, though, was that Arduin commanded a monthly retainer of $30,000 for her services, and in the end, she left the state having accomplished little except collecting a check from hardworking taxpayers in Illinois. Her hiring also was blasted by many of the same Democrats who now are all too willing to pay 20 people making as much or more as Arduin did.

It is doubtful that paying 20 people that kind of money is going to produce drastically different results than the disastrous experiment with Arduin. The solution to wasting $30,000 per month on ineffective services to the state is not to hire even more people at that expensive price tag.

True, for those fortunate 20, the governor is going to underwrite those costs. However, it is not clear if the governor can legally do this and even if he is able to give money to public officials out of his own pocket, the bar has been set for what people in these positions should earn.

People going to work for the next administration are not going to want to do the job their predecessors did for less money. So, whether it happens now or in the future, taxpayers will be on the hook for these exorbitant salaries, which will not just impact the cost of paying these salaries but also will have an impact on pensions as well.

Again, there is nothing wrong with paying good staff members for good work, but these politically connected staffers are just coming into the job. We have no idea what kind of work they can do because they have not done anything yet.

If these new staffers can find a way to solve Illinois' pension crisis and get our bills paid on time and stop the exodus of Illinois residents, then by all means they will deserve the salaries they are receiving and then some.

But until these miracles happen, it looks like business as usual in Illinois as the insiders get taken care of at the expense of everyone else. We can't expect to solve the financial problems in Illinois by continuing to do the same things that got us into this mess in the first place.

Sadly, once again in Illinois, it is the Insiders 1, Taxpayers 0.

Brad Halbrook, a Republican, serves the 102nd District.

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