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State’s $100K salary trajectory bears watching

More and more workers taking home big bucks

Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Most people who work for the state of Illinois do not make six-figure salaries, a new report by GateHouse Media newspapers shows.

The majority of state workers make modest salaries to support a nice, Midwestern lifestyle. Working for the state of Illinois gives them a decent income, enviable benefits packages and excellent job security.

However, there is a noticeable trend developing right under taxpayers’ noses: State employee salaries are increasing to the six-figure mark faster than ever, even as state employee rolls are decreasing.

Between 2010 and 2012, 2,000 additional state workers joined the state of Illinois’ “$100,000 club.”

In 2012 alone, 1,131 state workers started earning six-figure salaries.

No longer are dozens or hundreds of state workers earning six figures. There are thousands of them – more than 6,200 – now earning six figures.

As recently as 2010, six-figure earners accounted for 5.5 percent of state employees and 12.5 percent of the state’s payroll. In 2012 they accounted for 8 percent of the workforce and 17 percent of the state’s payroll. (The figures do not include university employees.)

This is occurring even as the state’s workforce continues to shrink through layoffs and attrition. And all the while, the state grapples with a $100 billion unfunded pension liability and a $6 billion backlog of 78,000 unpaid bills.

Some people question the wisdom of handing out so many high salaries, especially at a time when the state struggles to remain solvent. Go work in the private sector if you want to make a high salary, they say.

Others suggest state government naturally has a large percentage of white-collar jobs that require highly educated and qualified employees, just as much as or more than the private sector, and that the state must be willing to compensate those workers accordingly.

We don’t question the education, training, expertise, and dedication of state workers as a whole. The point of this editorial is not to chastise state workers for their salaries. Rather, it is to raise questions about oversight and whether Illinois government can sustain having so many highly-paid workers.

For one thing, future retirement benefits are based on the salaries workers earn now. Illinois already has a crisis on its hands with a pension liability it is unable to fund and a Legislature that can’t seem to agree on a plan to deal with it.

Can the state afford long-term to pay so many workers such high salaries? It’s unclear but deserves consideration.

Second, GateHouse’s analysis raises questions about whether the state of Illinois is hiring too many generals and not enough soldiers with its limited funds. By paying more and more money to a small but growing group of workers, the state is diminishing its ability to hire more front-line employees to handle jobs such as answering the phones, processing Firearm Owner ID card requests, investigating child abuse reports, answering questions at the unemployment office, and mailing out license plate stickers, among other things.

We urge elected officials to take on this issue and be a champion not only for Illinois taxpayers, but also for sensible distribution of the state’s workforce.

Left to its own devices, the state’s “$100,000 club” will continue to grow, and taxpayers will continue to pay the price, one way or another.

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