City Council members should turn down pay hike

That alderpersons would reject a pay raise is probably hoping against hope. But turning down some or all of the hike would be the right thing to do.

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The Chicago City Council.

Chicago City Council members have until Friday to decide to accept or reject a 9.62% pay raise.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

We know Chicago alderpersons are unlikely this week to refuse the 9.62% pay raise they’re in line to receive next year.

That’s because they’ll say they’ve earned the raises.

And also because, since its inception, the deliberative body’s members have rarely turned down an opportunity to feather their own nests, nor have they denied colleagues the chance to get a little fatter as well.

Council members currently make a quite respectable $115,000 to $130,000 a year. They ought to forgo the raises, given the economic tough times faced by many of their constituents, some of whom can only dream of a salary that high.



That’s probably hoping against hope. But turning down some or all of the pay hike would be the right thing to do.

Pay raise ‘obscene’

City Council salaries have steadily risen since 2006, when members voted themselves yearly pay increases tied to the consumer price index.

Alderpersons have been free individually to decline or accept the raise each year.

This year, the price index took a leap, opening the door for a relative windfall to Council members.

“In 2022, the consumer price index increased by 9.62%. As a result, the adjusted annual salary for aldermen will increase to $142,772 on Jan. 1, 2023,” Budget Director Susie Park wrote in an Aug. 15 memorandum to City Council members.

The $142,772 represents top pay for Council members and not all of them will make that amount. But they’re all eligible for the 10% bump-up.

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But Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), a candidate in next year’s mayoral election, wants to curb the raises.

“A 10% pay raise during the onset of a recession is outrageous,” said Lopez, who turned down the last two Council pay increases.

“It’s obscene,” he said. “Nobody’s getting 10%. Our constituents aren’t getting a 10% raise. The only thing that’s gotten a 10% raise is the cost of everything that they need to buy because of the inflation.”

Lopez said he wants to introduce an ordinance at next month’s City Council meeting that would put alderpersons’ pay at $120,000 a year for the next four years. Future annual pay raises tied to the inflation rate would be capped at 3%. 

But if the notion of limiting pay doesn’t doom Lopez’s proposed ordinance, this part of it certainly will: The currently part-time post of alderperson would become full-time, and Council members would be prohibited from having outside jobs.

Alderpersons should say no

The late Ald. Berny Stone (50th) gave a colorful and most-aldermanic response in 2008 when a reporter asked him about the notion of refusing his pay raise.

“Kiss my royal,” he said. “Under no circumstances will I give up my pay raise.”

We expect the same sentiment is held by many Council members now, if in kinder terms, as they face a deadline Friday to accept or turn down the raise.

But Lopez is right: Taking a 10% pay increase now for a well-paying part-time public job just feels wrong, with many Chicagoans facing job insecurity and struggling to make ends meet.

Council members should either ax the entire pay raise or vote to take a substantially smaller portion of it.

Barring that, more alderpersons ought to have the conviction to say no individually, as Ald. Matt Martin (47th), Lopez and three other council members did when this issue came up last year.

“When I look at my own situation and reflect on the many challenges that my ward and my city have faced, I feel that it’s the best personal decision for me to forgo this year’s cost-of-living adjustment,” Martin said then.

It’s a tough call, taking money out of your own pocket. But it was the right approach then, as it is now.

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