Every Chicago alderman in these tough times should turn down that big 5.5% pay bump

Chicago’s 50 aldermen have until Wednesday to decline the automatic pay hike, which they’ll otherwise get without even having to take a vote.

SHARE Every Chicago alderman in these tough times should turn down that big 5.5% pay bump
The Chicago City Council meets on July 21.

The Chicago City Council meets on July 21.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

If you’ve got a pay raise coming, you’re going to take it. Same here.

We don’t know anybody who would turn down a bump in pay they’ve worked hard to get.

But that’s the thing: You worked for it. And then you, or the union representing you, had to make the case to your bosses that you had it coming. And in another year — or in a few years if you’ve got a multiyear deal — you’ll have to make your case again.

For most American workers, it is extremely uncommon for pay hikes to keep on coming, even if only to keep up with the cost of living, without periodic reviews.

Unless you’re a Chicago alderman.



In which case, you don’t have to make the case to anybody, no matter how broke the city might be, how heavily taxed the people of Chicago might be or, for that matter, how crummy an alderman you are. Every year, your pay goes up by the cost of living, automatically, and you don’t even have to take an embarrassing vote on it.

That’s a sweet deal that should end right now.

Chicago’s 50 aldermen have until Sept. 15 — Wednesday — to decline a pay raise of nearly 5.5% for next year. If they don’t formally reject the raise, it will kick in automatically on Jan. 1.

We think every alderman, some of whom already are paid more than $123,000, should decline the raise. To accept this big bump in pay at a time when so many Chicagoans, in the midst of the pandemic, are struggling to make ends meet is hard to defend. But even in the best of times, the aldermen should have to stand up and make the case for a pay hike — and take a vote for the record.

Biggest hike since 2006

Automatic cost-of-living pay hikes, ad infinitum, are actually not all that unusual among elected officials. They are provided for in the Illinois Constitution for state representatives and senators, though the Legislature has passed laws to turn that spigot off. Members of Congress, thanks to an act approved in 1989, also are due cost-of-living pay hikes each year — but they have voted every year since 2010 not to accept those increases.

This latest pay hike for alderman, as the Chicago Tribune reports, would be their biggest since the City Council passed the automatic increase rule in 2006. Pegged to the federal Consumer Price Index, it would work out to a $6,743 raise for the highest paid aldermen.

Over the years, individual aldermen have chosen to decline the pay hike in some years and take it in others, resulting in an increasingly wide range of salaries. Some aldermen have turned down the pay hikes because, they say, being an alderman is supposed to be a part-time gig. Other aldermen have accepted every raise because, they argue, being an alderman really is — or should be — a full-time job and their pay should reflect that.

We’re not sure about that. Some of Chicago’s better aldermen have always held other jobs. We’re thinking, for example, of Ald. Tom Tunney (44), who is also a prominent restaurant owner. And some of Chicago’s least impressive alderman have always held just the one job. We could name names here, too.

The pay, by the way, is already pretty good, if not necessarily extravagant. It ranges from $109,812 for Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) to $123,504 for 31 other aldermen.

But this is what should really give every alderman pause: Every boost in pay they accept translates — sooner or later and directly or indirectly — into higher property tax bills for their constituents. And those constituents don’t pull in the same kind of money.

The median household income in Chicago in 2019 was $61,811. Average wage growth among Chicago workers in the last year has been about 3%.

Every alderman should decline this automatic 5.5% pay raise.

We’ll let you know later this week who did and did not.

Send letters to letter@suntimes.com.

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