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In Springfield, ‘shared sacrifice’ not exactly shared: Korecki

The new mantra coming out of our state’s capital these days is “shared sacrifice.”

They are the key words lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration use as a warning that there are tough changes up ahead to steady Illinois’ fiscal health.

There’s talk of deep cuts to state agencies, Rauner has hinted that state employees make too much money and public-sector unions have been warned that they, too, may take a hit.

But just what defines “sacrifice” depends on whom you’re talking about in Illinois.

ANALYSIS

If double-dipping — specifically those earning public salary while already tapping a taxpayer pension —  is outlawed, would that be considered a sacrifice?

What about the practice of handing cronies a public position for just a matter of weeks to boost a pension dramatically? How about curtailing contract buyouts that cost three-quarters of a million dollars in taxpayer money?

Is that sacrifice?

State lawmakers work part-time jobs for about $68,000 a year in base pay. And earn a pension, plus health insurance.

The College of DuPage just reaffirmed a $763,000 buyout agreement of its president, Robert Breuder, according to the Chicago Tribune, sparking community outrage. The board also agreed to name a building after him on his way out the door.

Who is sacrificing there?

On the state lawmaker front: state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is proposing legislation that would rid lawmakers of their publicly funded pensions. McSweeney proposed the same bill last year that went nowhere. So this time, McSweeney said the measure would affect only new lawmakers, those elected in 2016 and beyond.

“We have to lead by example. I believe that eliminating legislative pensions will send the right message to the people of this state that we’re going to be making some reductions in spending,” he said.

So current lawmakers wouldn’t actually “sacrifice,” they just would vote on future sacrifices for other members.

“This would apply only to new members elected in 2016 and beyond,” McSweeney said. “This, I think, is a reasonable approach.”

By “reasonable,” McSweeney’s referencing the likelihood of actually getting the bill to move out of the Rules Committee.

For his part, McSweeney, an investment banker who has a separate retirement account through his personal job, said he refused a public pension since he was elected in 2012. McSweeney said more and more lawmakers are getting on board with voluntarily refusing to take a pension.

McSweeney is also proposing another bill that would cut legislative pay, legislative office budgets and salary of constitutional officers by 10 percent. He’s again moving to eliminate the position of lieutenant governor in Illinois.

Rauner has hinted that state workers may see salary cuts. In recent statements, Rauner said state workers earned on average 22 percent more than those in the private sector. The average pay in Illinois — about $65,000. Again, lawmakers make about that much, plus benefits for part-time work.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Rauner hasn’t exactly taken the “lead by example” approach when it comes to paying out salaries of his direct staff.

The report revealed that so far, Rauner’s top staff will make nearly 36 percent more than equivalent staffers under former Gov. Pat Quinn. His chief of staff is on pace to earn $180,000 a year and other top deputies are far north of $100,000.

What was that again about $65,000 being too much?

Then there are egregious examples of government spending that surely makes taxpayers’ blood boil, especially those with skyrocketing property tax bills.

One lawmaker found the College of DuPage story so outrageous, he’s asking the Illinois attorney general to look into the matter.

“There clearly are some matters relating to governance, that have caused a number of legislators to review recent actions of the board of trustees,” state Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said. “I plan to make a formal request of the attorney general to determine or to ensure that the open meetings act was fully complied with in relation to the action taken by the board, which approved the severance package.”

Durkin said he will review ways to give the public more involvement before major contract packages are signed off on.

“All of us believe that transparency is paramount at every level of government, whether it’s in Springfield or in our community colleges,” Durkin said. “I’m not going to micromanage the decisions that are made at that level, but the pubic must be fully aware of significant decisions that have a significant impact on budgets and are taxpayer funded. . . . I don’t think these matters should be rushed, perhaps a greater waiting period so there can be input from the general public. If it’s a good deal and the board stands by their actions they should have no problem standing on their two feet and defending their actions.”

On Feb. 18, Rauner will lay out his budget proposal to the state Legislature.

“I’ve heard very little about the details, that’s going to be, in my view, the most important day of the session,” McSweeney said. “The plan should focus on cutting spending.”

It should also focus on the true definition of “sacrifice” in Illinois.