* The more I thought about this last week, the angrier I became, so I made it my syndicated newspaper column…
I was talking to my mom on the phone last week, and just as I was about to hang up she stopped me short and insisted that we talk about Gov. Pat Quinn’s bigtime raises to his top staff.
If you’ve missed the story, Quinn gave out raises of as much as 20 percent to his senior staff, while those same people were busily cutting everybody else’s budgets and devising tax-increase strategies.
Unlike the state’s mind-boggling $13 billion budget deficit, this is a very easy issue to understand for people who don’t pay close attention to politics.
My mother does follow Illinois politics quite a bit, however, and she appears to be just as incensed about the immorality of handing out selective pay raises during one of the worst fiscal crises in history as she is about the abject political stupidity of Quinn’s decision.
He’s brought it all on himself. “The bottom line is shared sacrifice in tough times,” Quinn told the Daily Herald last spring. “That’s what Americans do.”
Quinn has uttered that “shared sacrifice” line countless times this year as he’s pushed an austere budget and proposed a tax increase. But the complete, utter hypocrisy of calling for “shared sacrifice” from taxpayers, state employees and government vendors on the one hand while dishing out huge pay hikes for his top aides on the other makes me ill.
This is just an incredibly stupid thing to do on almost all possible levels.
I happen to respect Quinn’s budget director, David Vaught. He has an impossible, maddening job right now. But he should’ve known better than to accept a 20 percent pay raise while he was slashing state budgets. And Quinn, who has billed himself as “Mr. Populist” for as long as he’s been involved in politics, should’ve known better than to offer Vaught that raise.
The problem here is that this governor has great difficulty applying to his office the same lessons he’s preached to others. For instance, Quinn is in the process of drastically scaling back mobile phone usage by state employees, but his top aides still use the state’s fleet of turboprop planes.
The governor has bragged about reducing the state’s payroll, but almost all of the high-level officials he’s let go have been provided with golden parachutes.
As for himself, the governor has turned down a salary increase, often pays his own way when he travels, lives frugally, and is definitely no strutting peacock. You won’t see Quinn spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new suits and ties like Rod Blagojevich did, or jetting off for Jamaica vacations with millionaire pals like George Ryan did.
Quinn mostly lives what he preaches. And it’s admirable that, as an employer, he wants to take care of “his people.” Plus, the amount of money we’re talking about is just a drop in the ocean of red ink flooding the state.
But the governor needs to somehow come to the realization that the pain he is inflicting via his budget and his other actions is all too real for hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t privileged enough to reside within his inner circle. Services for the mentally ill, seniors and countless others are being wiped out right now. Vendors are going out of business because the state is paying them so late. Nonunion state employees are forced to take furloughs and haven’t had a pay hike in years. Even unionized state workers agreed to delay half of their pay raises this year.
You cannot morally demand austerity from the masses while protecting your friends from harsh realities. It is thoroughly repugnant. And it must end.
* ADDED: Could The Treasury Save Our State? - University of California-Berkeley law professor Christopher Edley has proposed a novel solution to the budget crises in Illinois and elsewhere: let cash-strapped states borrow from the U.S. Treasury.
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