Earlier this spring, at OpenTheBooks.com, we identified more than 50,000 Illinois public employees who make at least $100,000 per year.
These "highly compensated" public servants cost Illinois taxpayers over $8 billion. We found Cook County animal-control officers making $105,000; suburban school administrators at $503,000; university doctors earning $1.3 million; and 72 small-town 'managers' out-earning every governor of all 50 states.
This research helps explain why Illinois has a net outward migration of residents. In order to pay these exorbitant salaries, Illinois has burdensome property taxes that are driving people out of the state.
Illinois also has the double dippers — 15,000 "retired" public employees who go back to work in government and acquire a second pension. There's former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who took $2.25 million in salary from the University of Illinois between 2000-2013 while also receiving more than $2 million in pension from a two-term stint as governor. Former state Rep. Roger Eddy now makes $322,200 — $291,725 as executive director of Illinois Association of School Boards and $30,500 from his lawmaker's pension.
Public pay and pension envy in Illinois is real. The hard-working private sector doesn't have benefits even remotely close to government workers.
Last month, tipped by an article in this newspaper, we found another "highly compensated" double dipper.
The News-Gazette reported that retiring Sixth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Dan Flannell will become the new "city administrator" in Sullivan for an initial salary of $92,500. But our cash-compensation calculation of Flannell's five-year contract reveals a total taxpayer cost estimate of $786,939.
Confirmed through a Freedom of Information Act request and follow-up conversations with the city clerk, we found the reported salary is only one of 20 compensation buckets. Here are some of Flannell's new benefit buckets in Sullivan with their estimated five-year costs: four weeks of annual paid vacation ($35,575); a city vehicle ($30,000), computer ($600), travel tablet ($600), and cellphone with unlimited data plan ($7,200); city-paid Social Security ($28,675) and Illinois Municipal Retirement System pension ($53,370).
Flannell receives 11 holidays ($19,565) and five sick days ($8,895). Flannell also receives personal, professional development training with paid travel for state and national conferences ($15,000) and his organizational membership dues ($5,000).
The city of Sullivan extended health, dental and vision insurance ($64,625), and it's unclear if Flannell will take these benefits from the judicial retirement plan or his city contract. Flannell receives a severance bonus of $138,750 if he's fired without cause during his first two years. The work schedule is flexible, with no contractually mandated office hours.
But Flannell gets to keep a side job and can earn extra money performing marriages or civil-union ceremonies. Over the same five-year period through 2022, Flannell stands to receive an estimated starting judicial pension of $157,684, totaling $837,164 over five years. In fact, the Illinois judicial pension is so lucrative that 40 percent of all retired judges have seen an increase in take-home pay by retiring. Between his judicial pension and new "city administrator" employment contract, Flannell stands to reap up to $1.624 million in total compensation, benefits, perquisites and judge pension during the next five years.
Flannell, Edgar and Eddy are all area examples of why Illinois is broke. All of these public servants legally gamed the system for personal gain. Illinois residents face bleak futures while the players enjoy bright futures. The fact that Illinois is famous for this is disgraceful.
Of course, these examples from downstate are dwarfed by those in the Chicago suburbs. Our research shows that Township High School District 204 and Palatine Township High School District 211 — just two of 900 Illinois school districts — pay 1,170 educators a salary over $100,000. In three counties — DuPage, Lake and Will — 707 county employees earned $100,000-plus last year. The "chief of staff' to Republican DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin made $201,599.
Which brings us back to the city of Sullivan and hometown communities just like it. The real repository of fiscal sanity always resided in the small towns and hamlets of Illinois. Is this changing? Is public greed undermining the virtue of public service at the local level?
The city of Sullivan is home to 4,490 people. According to U.S. Census statistics, the community lost population over the last 30 years. Additional prestige will not be conferred on the community through the granting of outrageous pay packages. Illinois is suffering, but the futures of Illinois public employees have never been brighter.
Illinois needs a comeback story and keeping dollars in local economies instead of directing tax dollars to outrageous pay packages must be part of the solution.
Adam Andrzejewski is founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, which claims to be the largest private database of government spending in the world.