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updated: 9/26/2011 4:08 PM

Watchdog questions comptroller, treasurer raises

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  • State Treasurer Dan Rutherford

       State Treasurer Dan Rutherford
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka

      State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka

 
Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Two Republican statewide officeholders who have criticized government spending and want to consolidate it have handed out pay raises to dozens of employees during a fiscal crisis.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has awarded 19 pay raises to staff members averaging 16 percent at the very time Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has threatened 1,900 layoffs and facilities closures, reneged on a negotiated pay increase for thousands of union workers in his administration and eliminated salaries for regional school administrators, who have been working for free since July.

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Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a former treasurer who returned to state government this year by declaring she's "not going away" until the budget crisis is solved, gave raises of at least 3 percent to 56 staffers and up to 15 percent to a handful of employees after promotions or an "equity adjustment."

The salary increases were discovered in an analysis of payroll records by the Better Government Association, a Chicago-based nonprofit group which showed the findings to The Associated Press.

BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw pointed out that Rutherford and Topinka were elected as fiscal conservatives. "These are tough economic times, so they should realize that this is not the time to hand out pay raises to political appointees who already enjoy generous salaries and benefits," Shaw said.

Clock-punchers in other sectors, public and private, are working harder without pay raises, Shaw said.

The two are not the only statewide officeholders to hike salaries recently. The BGA and Crain's Chicago Business reported in July that Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White handed out 6 percent raises to about 250 executive staff members in the past year, costing $936,000 extra per year.

Quinn was roundly criticized in July 2010 when the AP reported that he gave raises -- some topping 20 percent -- to 35 staffers since becoming governor while at the same time promising to cut spending. His staff explained they were for job-title changes that carried additional workload, but some of as much as 10 percent were listed only as "salary adjustment."

Taxpayers will pay about $305,000 more a year to fund the increases in the treasurer and comptroller offices. The new average salary of the affected Topinka employees is $78,000. In Rutherford's office, it's $58,700, according to an AP analysis of the records.

The workers are generally nonunion appointees.

But that's a major reason Topinka's workers needed raises, spokesman Brad Hahn said. Three-quarters of Topinka's 236 employees are members of unions, and most of those got 4.5 percent raises this year, so the comptroller allowed 3 percent raises for the nonunion staffers "to provide for greater equity."

Rutherford spokeswoman Melissa Hahn took exception to the BGA's assertion that the treasurer was rewarding appointees who might be political allies. She said 18 of 19 raises went to staffers whose tenure predated Rutherford, a former state senator, "so raises are clearly not targeting employees who the treasurer brought in when he took office."

Each of the increases went to workers who were promoted to fill a vacancy, had additional duties added to their workloads, or got adjustments based on supervisory duties, Melissa Hahn said.

Two raises averaging 9 percent went to supervisors Elizabeth Turner and Susan Roth, who did not change positions, for "salary adjustment commensurate with duties." The largest, 57.8 percent, went to Sheleda Doss, who now makes $65,000. She was promoted from legislative liaison to legislative associate, a leadership role encompassing developing legislative proposals and training staff, Melissa Hahn said.

Rutherford's budget as treasurer was not increased over last year's despite taking on a $150,000 computer upgrade project, she said.

"The treasurer has been adamant that raises must be justified, and so he has only given the 19 that reflect significant increases in responsibility and duties," Melissa Hahn said. "The treasurer's office budget is flat because the treasurer has insisted on cutting costs wherever possible."

The BGA's Shaw commended Rutherford's efforts.

"But most people in and out of government are working longer hours without additional compensation these days, so a bit of additional responsibility doesn't automatically justify a higher salary," he said.

Brad Hahn noted ongoing attempts by Quinn and lawmakers to scale back the number of union members in the state workforce -- as much as 97 percent now -- and said holding the line on salaries for workers not entitled to negotiated pay increases just drives them to the unions.

"Nonunion employees have historically gone without raises, while their union colleagues have received salary increases every year," Brad Hahn said. "Employees recognized that if they wanted a raise, they had to join a union -- and more than 62 staff members have joined collective bargaining units in the last two years alone."

The largest increase to a Topinka staffer went to James Stevens, a staff assistant who got 14.9 percent as an "equity adjustment," according to Hahn. He now makes $48,260. Topinka's chief of staff, longtime aide Nancy Kimme, makes the most at $135,960, after a $3,960 raise.

Rutherford and Topinka, who each make $135,669 annually, teamed up last spring to propose a ballot measure to merge the offices of comptroller and treasurer, posts that were separated by a rewritten Constitution in 1970. They say it would save $12 million a year. It has not been approved by the legislature.

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