Illinois debt teetered close to junk bond status until nearly $200 billion in Covid bailouts provided enough cash for a reprieve to its fiscal mess. A peek at the startling state payroll reveals why the mess will return.
According to Open The Books, which focuses on government transparency, the state has 132,188 public employees with salaries and benefits over $100,000. That’s a total cost of $17 billion.
The list includes 10 police department leaders and 18 school superintendents with salaries above $300,000 and some 16,592 retirees with six-figure pensions. Five of the top 10 public school employee payouts are for pensions above $330,000 a year.
That’s in a state school system that fails its most vulnerable children. See the National Assessment of Educational Progress, if you dare. In 2020 the average Chicago teacher’s compensation was $108,730 including salary and benefits. Chicago teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, which might be fine if they were also among the highest performing measured by student achievement. But pay for performance is unknown in Springfield.
Giant pensions in some cases outstrip salaries, as politicians know they can increase pension benefits that will be paid long after they leave office. Open The Books says there are “more state police officers retired on six-figure pensions (1,555) than officers currently paid on six-figure salaries (1,540).”
Many states offer high salaries to public employees, but Illinois state workers are the second highest-paid government workers in the country when adjusted for cost of living, according to Wirepoints. The Land of Lincoln beats California, New Jersey and New York on the metric. This is one reason Illinois voters pay the second highest property tax rates. New Jersey is number one.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said this summer that “the state is obligated to pay retirees what they are owed” and there is “no silver bullet” for the state’s pension crisis. But Mr. Pritzker doesn’t want to fire any bullets. He’s supporting the Illinois ballot measure called Amendment 1 that would add union collective bargaining and other union privileges to the state constitution. This will further entrench public union power.
Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, boasted recently that “[u]nion people can make or break any administration regardless of whether they need our money or not because we represent the hearts and minds of Illinois.” Mr. Reiter understands who is the real Governor