By: Journal-Courier staff
These pages have been used many times before to rail against overpaid political cronies who fill fancy titles, big offices and take home large government paychecks but do little.
We are finding it hard, though, to lash out at two cases that have become media darlings for the press lately. The first is Gov. Bruce Rauner’s hiring of key officials for more — sometimes much more — than the same positions were paid under former Gov. Pat Quinn. The other is Attorney General Lisa Madigan giving raises — again, some substantial — to some non-union staff members.
Although at least the criticism is being directed at both political parties, and the concern about state expenditures is warranted, both cases are examples of judgments being made on numbers and not details.
In Rauner’s case, a review by The Associated Press of the new governor’s top employees shows their salaries are a total of $380,000 more than Quinn paid. Individual salaries are 11 percent to 94 percent higher in some specific cases.
So much for all the pre-election blasting of state overspending, critics say.
But with less than a month in office under Rauner’s belt, there are still a lot of people on payroll who were appointed by Quinn, and not all of Rauner’s hires have been made.
It isn’t even clear yet whether Rauner will have the same number of people in the governor’s staff as Quinn did — 96 people getting paid $4.5 million yearly.
If, for example, Rauner’s former deputy campaign manager Mike Zolnierowicz is making $180,000 a year as the new governor’s chief of staff (he is), is it fair to question the salary because it is 38 percent higher than Quinn’s chief of staff, or should it be expected that the complete picture be used for forming decisions?
Rauner has already saved $179,399 from the governor’s office expenses by making his own salary this year $1.
Let’s save the scrutiny there until we have a complete and true look at what Rauner plans to do with the office.
Now for the other side of the political fence.
Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan gave 52 employees a total of $507,356 extra pay, according to the website Openthebooks.com.
"Attorney General Lisa Madigan is out of touch with the seniors, taxpayers and families in Illinois," Adam Andrzejewski, chairman of American Transparency and OpenTheBooks.com told The Washington Times. "While families are doing more with less, Lisa Madigan handed out big pay spikes to political appointees. It’s another example of why taxpayers are angry."
We’re fans of Andrzejewski and usually find a lot of his criticism right on target.
But this seems another case of not looking at the entire picture and concentrating solely on the numbers.
The financial mess in Illinois — $6 billion in unpaid debts and $111 billion in unfunded pension costs — should not preclude people from being paid a fair amount for hard work.
Natalie Bauer, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, explains to The Washington Post that in any year, openings arise that involve more responsibilities "and employees who have clearly demonstrated the skill to take on those new responsibilities are promoted."
Unlike most other state government offices, the attorney general’s office is actually revenue-producing. Madigan’s office brought in $992 million in 2013 alone through settlements with everyone from tax evaders to those who take advantage of consumers.
For every $30 the office received from the state’s general revenues, it returned $32.
Still, some say there should be no raises given to anyone until the state’s financial problems are solved. That’s just leading those who have the ambition and ability to be able to correct the situation into the usually higher-paying publicsector.
Instead of going after those who should be rewarded for doing the work and doing it well, the focus should be on getting rid of those who don’t.
That would be fairness.