18% legislative pay raises started with Pritzker, though he sought raises only for the cabinet

SPRINGFIELD - The idea for raising salaries of top Illinois state government officials, which culminated this weekend with the House and Senate voting lawmakers an 18% pay hike, began with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

But the Democratic governor said he originally requested that the General Assembly increase pay only for his administration's agency directors, in order to recruit and retain top talent. Pritzker said he wouldn't presume to tell the General Assembly what its members should be paid.

"The Legislature is a coequal branch of government," Pritzker said Saturday at a preinaugural community service event at Central Illinois Foodbank. "They haven't had a raise since before the Great Recession, and so I can see why there's an interest in doing that."

Lawmakers concluding the 102nd General Assembly last and this week are scrambling to act on last-minute - and mostly critical and contentious - issues before the 103rd General Assembly is sworn in on Wednesday.

Friday night, the House endorsed a plan to increase spending halfway through the budget year, including $850 million for the state's "rainy day" fund, $400 million for attracting business, and a $12,904 increase in annual base pay for members of the House and Senate.

The measure quickly went through a Senate committee Sunday afternoon, then was approved by the full Senate Sunday night.

On top of that $85,000 annual salary, most members of the General Assembly get at least $12,000 or more per year as stipends for extra duties.

"We don't want a Legislature that's only made up of the wealthy," said House Majority Leader Greg Harris, the legislation's Chicago Democratic sponsor who retires Tuesday. "We want people who can run for office, serve their community, but also be able to pay for their family and kids."

The last raise for legislators came in 2008, and concerned about the optics, lawmakers voted against any increase each year until 2019, when the House surprised the Senate by backing out of an agreed-to freeze on cost-of-living increases. A locked-in annual raise has since been adopted.

Pritzker had commissioned a national salary study of jobs comparable to those of his cabinet. The led to pay raises for 21 agency directors who answer to the governor.

Pritzker, a multibillionaire equity investor and philanthropist, began his tenure as governor in 2019 by supplementing salaries of key staff members out of his own checking account.

"People are willing to take a discounted salary off of what they might get in the private sector to come to public service, but you really have to be somewhat competitive. People are putting their kids through college or they're paying their home mortgage or their rent. ...," Pritzker said. "We just want to be competitive and bring great people and then retain great people in state government."

From there, negotiators added in pay raises for six statewide constitutional officers.

For the constitutional officers' raises to take effect immediately, they must be signed into law before those officers are sworn in to four-year terms Monday afternoon in the capital.

The raises for most are in the 10% range. The lieutenant governor, comptroller and treasurer, for example, would see 10% increases to $160,900 per year. The attorney general and secretary of state will see 9% more in their paychecks, to $183,300. The governor earns $205,700 a year, but Pritzker does not take it.

For agency heads, the legislation sets a salary minimum but allows the governor to go above that. And each would receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment. The top annual salary set in the bill is $200,000, which would go to chiefs at eight agencies: the departments of Children and Family Services, Corrections, Human Services, Innovation and Technology, Public Health, State Police, Transportation and Veterans Affairs.

Senate consideration of the matter has left less time for the session's other two major issues: House-approved bans on certain semi-automatic weapons, and on legal action from outside Illinois targeting people who travel here for abortions or gender-affirming medical treatment.

The gun ban, rising from the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park where a gunman killed seven and injured 30, is sponsored by Rep. Bob Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat who attended the parade. It would prohibit nearly seven dozen specific types of fast-firing pistols and rifles and likely faces a competing bill from the Senate body.

Likewise there is work in the Senate on a separate proposal that would protect people receiving abortions or gender-affirming treatment - or those providing it - from legal action arising in states that have restricted access to those procedures, particularly abortions, since the Supreme Court last summer overturned Roe v. Wade.

Illinois House Majority Leader Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, speaks in Springfield in 2021. Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP
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