Taxpayers spent nearly $6.9 million last year to cover the salaries and expenses of 167 appointed members of 23 state boards and commissions.
And because the state is on the verge of creating another salaried board to handle concealed weapon permit appeals, the cost will grow by more than $260,000 next year.
Some of these board salaries reach into six figures, and some board members were reimbursed for nearly $15,000 worth of expenses last year. Some of the posts even come with a pension.
Several government finance watchdog groups question the need for many of the boards as well as the salaries that accompany them.
"One of my biggest frustrations with these boards and commissions is that they are handling issues that should be a function of the General Assembly, which has chosen to punt or delay authority by creating these boards," said Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president at the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank that analyzes and tracks government finances. "This kind of work should be happening under the legislature's committee structure."
These appointed boards oversee such issues as pollution, labor relations, gambling and even carnival-amusement ride safety.
Eight members of the Workers' Compensation Commission averaged pay of $125,862 during the state's last fiscal year, which ended in June. The commissioners' combined salaries and expenses totaled more than $1 million, even without the full cadre of commissioners for most of the year, according to financial records available on Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's website.
In August, a ninth member was appointed. There is still one vacancy on the board, which oversees the hearing process for workers claiming compensation for on-the-job injuries.
In addition to his $119,840 salary, Workers' Compensation Commissioner Daniel Donohoo, from Madison County near St. Louis, also charged nearly $15,000 in expenses to taxpayers last year, the most of any state appointee.
Commission spokeswoman Anjali Julka said Donohoo was needed in Chicago more frequently than in years past because of board vacancies and the higher expenses were a result of using "commercial airline flights as a means of meeting his travel obligations."
Salaries and expenses for the 15 members of the Prisoner Review Board also cost taxpayers more than $1 million during the last fiscal year. The board handles some parole and prisoner-conduct matters for the state.
Those boards -- as well as the Pollution Control Board, Education Labor Relations Board, Commerce Commission and Labor Relations Board -- are considered full-time jobs and members are forbidden from holding other employment. Salaries and expenses for the 46 members of the six full-time boards and commissions cost Illinois taxpayers more than $4.2 million last fiscal year, according to the comptroller's records.
Seventeen other appointed boards or commissions -- including the Lottery Control Board, State Police Merit Commission, Carnival-Amusement Safety Board and Executive Ethics Commission -- cost taxpayers almost $2.7 million in salaries and expenses last year.
Even though those are considered part-time posts, many longtime board members and commissioners are eligible for pensions, according to Tim Blair, director of the State Employees' Retirement System. Proponents of the appointed boards argue they provide staff and oversight for important issues, but some critics complain regions of the state aren't evenly represented on these boards.
While some board posts are geographically mandated, most are not. More than half of the appointees are from Cook County, though only about 40 percent of the state's population is from the county.
"Not surprising when you consider where the leadership for the state comes from," said David From, Illinois state director for Americans for Prosperity, a national tax policy reform organization.
Members of these boards and commissions are largely appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat from Chicago, with the confirmation of the state Senate.
Rasmussen believes qualifications are a higher priority than hometown.
"You want folks who are issue experts," she said. "What matters more, how they do their job or where they're from? The overriding concern should be we want the best person in the job who can do the work on behalf of the people, not where they come from."
Earlier this year, Quinn pushed legislation to eliminate 75 of the state's 391 existing boards and commissions that his office deemed "dormant, redundant or had completed their original mission."
None of the boards or commissions on the governor's chopping block had salaried members. Some of the boards were eventually eliminated, but others were saved by a Senate vote.
"Since taking office, Gov. Quinn has led unprecedented efforts to increase efficiency, accountability and transparency on Illinois boards and commissions," said Brooke Anderson, Quinn's spokeswoman. "He created (the website) appointments.illinois.gov to give the public access to information about membership and vacancies in the state's 300 boards and commissions."
Appointments to many of these boards were once widely considered patronage posts. In recent years, qualifications for membership have been beefed up and pensions have been eliminated for newcomers. Still, critics argue more could be done to reduce costs o taxpayers.
"There are people interested in public service who are good and knowledgeable in these fields who would be willing to serve for free," From said. "But still there are people who seem to get these jobs who aren't related to the core function of these jobs. Sure, there's more scrutiny now, but the state's in a worse position than it's ever been. They truly need a restructuring."
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