Of all the strange things that I have ever seen in government, the new governor's plan to double 20 underlings' salaries with his own funds is the one with the most potential to spark serious corruption.
Originally published in Crain's Chicago Business
“The governor-elect is committed to recruiting top talent to state government to best address the challenges Illinois faces. As a result, an LLC has been created that will enable the governor-elect to personally compensate some staff in addition to their government salary, reducing the cost to taxpayers. This process will take place in a transparent manner with requirements that information be reported publicly.”
While it's been a busy news season, with charges of corruption dominating the headlines and mayoral debate, I’ve been puzzled by the lack of attention paid to the shocking announcement that our new governor, J.B. Pritzker, will double the salaries of 20 of his top hires using his own funds.
Of all the strange things that I have ever seen in government, this is the one with the most potential to spark serious corruption. Transparency, quite frankly, is the least of the problems with Pritzker's idea. Here are the questions we—all of us—should be asking:
Where do the loyalties of those hired lie? To the public which, by law, only provides measly salaries in the $100,000 range, or to the man who is lifting these hires out of the middle and into the upper class?
And what are the implications of this for government in the future?
If Pritzker says we can’t get the best and brightest to enter public service without offering the salaries they are used to in the private sector, what does that mean for the next governor? Can only billionaires who can afford to privately fund salaries run for governor? Or are we to believe that the person who runs for governor without billions in the bank will be attacked as inferior and nonviable because he or she can’t compete for talent?
And does the precedent Pritzker is setting have an impact beyond cabinet members and beyond Springfield? Does the precedent Pritzker is setting mean we believe we can attract people with the talent to handle deliberative and executive positions only by offering state legislators, city council members and Congress members salaries that are six times the nation’s average?
Being chosen for government service—particularly at its highest level—has long been viewed not as a sacrifice but as an honor, a recognition of excellence.
We rail against small-time corruption, the pilfering of thousands of dollars here, thousands of dollars there, but that type of corruption is incidental, an act born of the juncture of individual malfeasance and opportunity. Ironically, the precedent Pritzker has set and that we have met with silence is the dangerous one, fully transparent and now a regular feature, rather than a distortion, of government.