My wife and I recently stopped into the corner bar and grill for dinner. This being Chicago, the bartender immediately engaged us in a political conversation.
“You live around here? I’m gonna to run for alderman.”
He explained his philosophy, which sounded fine, then added what he believed would close the deal:
“…and I won’t accept a salary.”
It’s a thing. Would-be public servants grandly announce they won’t accept payment from taxpayers. They will work for us “for free.”
This promise is intended to win public trust and admiration, though anyone familiar with the history of Illinois politicians knows official compensation is mere tip money for those who take graft seriously.
A current list of high-profile government employees claiming to be doing taxpayers a favor by working for free includes President Donald Trump, First Daughter, Ivanka Trump, First Son-in-law, Jared Kushner, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and, closer to home, soon to be ex-Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner.
We can add to the list the next governor of Illinois.
Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire who pumped a record $171.5 million of his personal fortune into his winning campaign for Illinois governor, will forgo his state salary, his staff said.
Considering state government’s annual spending is nearly $38.5 billion, the $177,412 annual salary Illinois pays its governors is a drop in the bucket. But the Hyatt hotel heir takes office next year facing steep financial challenges — the state’s sitting on at least $7.5 billion in unpaid bills — and refusing a salary sends a message to lawmakers and voters as he starts addressing them.
The only good news about Rauner’s bad governing is that we got it for free. He didn’t accept his governor’s salary.
Remember, the state owes $130 billion borrowed from the state pension systems and expects to take in $36.7 billion, so the impact of the governor’s refusal of payment is infinitesimal.
With J.B. Pritzker, we’re again getting a governor “free of charge.” Will he be better? He’d almost have to be. But like Rauner four years ago, he has no record. We’ll have to see.
Sadly, this idea of getting a public servant “at no cost you YOU!” is likely to become more popular. That’s bad for democracy.
In my years working for teachers and education support employees, I often heard from school board members who were focused exclusively on taxpayers while paying lip service to student needs. These folks balked at the notion school employees should be treated as professionals, suggesting teaching is a “calling,” and therefore not an activity for which the teacher’s education, training and experience should be fairly compensated.
That was wrong. It is always wrong. If you want qualified, competent people who care enough to do their very best and take on important responsibilities, you have to pay them. You should want to pay them.
We shouldn’t let the Bruce Rauner disaster obscure the fact that delivering important public service is real work, deserving of fair compensation.
If J.B. Pritzker can get Illinois on the right track, he will be worth far more than the salary we aren’t paying him.
Despite the corruption and incompetence, about 25 percent of American voters remain loyal to Donald Trump, proving the producers of The Apprentice did a great job creating his undeserved reputation as a tough, decisive, successful businessman.