Fiscal watchdogs criticized for giving staff raises

September 26, 2011 (CHICAGO)

According to the Better Government Association, two Republican statewide office-holders, both self-described fiscal conservatives, have authorized pay increases for their non-union workers.

If Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said it once, she said it half a dozen times.

"No new spending, okay. Everything. Everything," she said.

But never during her speech to Chicago's City Club, did Topinka mention the fact that so far this year, she has given 56 non-union comptrollers' office employees 3-percent raises.

"It's really not new spending. It's all within what we have in our budget, and we'll cut back somewhere else to make it happen. But you didn't have to give the raises, did you? We did it so we could keep our managers or they are going to leave," said Topinka.

The Better Government Association also reports that the other Republican statewide office-holder treasurer Dan Rutherford gave raises to 19 of his workers, including one $23,000-a-year pay increase.

"It sends the wrong message for our two elected fiscal watchdogs to be granting pay raises at a time of economic suffering in the private sector and so many other places," said Andy Shaw, Better Government Association.

The latest news of state government pay raises comes on the same day the Chicago Civic Federation reports that Illinois still spends more than it collects in revenue and remains $8.3 billion in deficit despite this year's 66% increase in the personal income tax rate.

"You can't say that things have improved if we're still spending $454 million more than we're taking in," said Lawrence Msall, Chicago Civic Federation.

In her City Club speech, Topinka said her office has a backlog of nearly 145,000 unpaid bills totaling $3.4 billion. She said the state of Illinois spends $1,335 every second.

Meanwhile, the chairman of her state Republican party did not see any hypocrisy in so-called fiscal conservatives Topinka and Rutherford handing out pay increases during the crisis.

"You have to make individual decisions on individual employees and how you treat them. Most of these folks are underpaid, so I don't see an inconsistency there," said Pat Brady, Illinois Republican chairman.

Both Topinka and Rutherford say that raises for their non-union workers had nothing to do with politics, noting that the vast majority of affected employees were holdovers from the previous administrations.

Earlier this year, Gov.Pat Quinn was criticized for giving raises to about 35 members of his staff.

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