Chop the salaries of 'public servants'

It's bad enough to suggest that "public servants" forgo raises, even when pay increases in the private sector are as rare as, well, pay increases in the private sector. But imagine the din that will be aroused when someone, in all seriousness, exhorts public servants to take pay cuts.

It makes sense. Reductions in pension benefits for future state workers do nothing to pull Illinois out of its financial sinkhole.House Speaker Michael Madigan and other masterminds of the crisis want us to think they have done something good and useful by their surprise passage of a two-tiered pension system for public employees. Eventually good, yes, but of little immediate use.

An immediate solution is nothing less than a pay reduction for all public employees.

This is heresy of great and lasting offense. It will be regarded as so crackpot and so unlikely that it's not even worth discussing it.

But that's the chance Rick Roberts and his colleagues are willing to take, because of their belief that being a public servant actually means something other than extorting whatever you can out of taxpayers. Roberts, past head of the Christian Industrial League and a national Point of Light award winner, is a spokesman for a new business networking group in Chicago called the Universal Professional Business Network, which dedicates itself to promoting the core values of justice, courage, prudence and temperance. Roberts said UPBN's core philosophy reflects the "service above self" ideal of Rotary International (a service club organization), while being freer to reflect each individual's religious lives. Roberts said UPBN (at would be a "little smaller and more nimble ... We are not a political organization and we represent a wide range of political and social perspectives." It calls on men and women of conscious to speak out in the face of injustice.

And one of their perceived injustices is how public employees and their unions are damaging the common good by recognizing little else but their own self-interest. Their refusal to sacrifice, Roberts believes, has pushed the state toward financial ruin, thereby jeopardizing the many important and critical works that state and local governments must do. In that, it becomes a moral and an ethical issue.

The definition of "public servant" has been neutered into something that now only means someone who holds a government position, never mind whether actual service to the public is involved. That has to stop. "Anyone who works for government should be a public servant in its true meaning, in that the public good is their primary goal," he said. "In a nutshell, they must immediately agree to take a pay cut and freeze all pension benefits at current levels. The argument that these employees have 'earned' these benefits is specious to begin with, but beside the point. As public servants, their first obligation should be to the public good."

The process must start with elected officials, Roberts said, because they must lead by example. That doesn't mean taking a few furlough days off, but taking real pay cuts. "Such powerful symbolism then would position them to negotiate with public employees and their unions to agree to do the same. Should the economic status of Illinois dramatically improve in the future, then possible salary and benefit restoration could be considered.

"The only exceptions to this would be first responders, such as police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians. All public school teachers would be included (in the salary reductions) if any portion of their salaries are state subsidized."

Roberts has no illusions about the political and practical difficulties of what his group is proposing. "We are not naive," he said, "we expect a lot of pushback." But UPBN sees the issue in ethical and moral terms, based on the premise that government and its workers must act in the name of the common good.

That, indeed, is a jarring concept for politics as it is done in Illinois. It will be rejected out of hand by the many who regard the attainment of the moral and ethical to be impossible in Illinois. But if that now has become the prevailing view, then we have, indeed, hit bottom.


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  • You and your fundementalist Christian friend are totally clueless. As a state employee I can tell you that the state squanders millions of dollars on "consultants" hired to do everyday work that should be performed by state employees. These people in IT, project management and accounting and other departments bill out at $100 an hour. They work for firms that are owned by politically connected lobbyists and other insiders of BOTH parties. You want to start saving state tax money? Then demand an end to "consultant" hiring by the state so they can give real people jobs at a fraction of the consultant hourly cost. Also, look at the agency directors and their direct reports. As a group, they are generally incompetent and would never rate ther six figure salaries in the corporate world. These are the political appointees who should have lower salaries. Not the average Joes.

  • You got it. I call for an end to (or at least a serious reduction of) consultants' contracts. As a consultant myself, I know that most of them are worthless.

  • Also a municipal employee,you just can not believe all the waste we see. These parasites all have connections and the city council know it exists.

  • I wanted to submit words to the Chicago Tribune about your article but instead figured I would give this a try because it seems you post regularly. I am a public servant and make about 35,000 a year, before taxes, teaching the youth of America. I am not sure when the last time you were paid this, but I am now in my fifth year of teaching, and in order to get this job I had to rack up 35,000 in student loans that must be repaid over the next 15 years. I, of course, wanted to be a good American citizen and support our economy so I went out and bought a house and a car for my wife so she can get to her job, where she is paid 26,000 a year as a teacher in the Archdioceses of Chicago (DON'T GET ME STARTED THERE). I have a ten month old daughter who I would love to one day put through college but fear greatly that the costs will be far too much in the future. I guess what you are saying in your article is that us state employees, who serve the community, don't deserve these things listed above because as it stands right now, I am the working poor Mr. Byrne. I have a masters degree and I am clutching pennies. The point of this rant, I suppose, is to get you to help me solve the problem of how much most of us public servants have to spend on our education, the same as a private sector job, but we need to take pay cuts for the betterment of America. Do you see anything you would like to respond to in my blog because I certainly saw plenty in yours I would like to respond to.

  • Blame the union for everything--that's the way to go.(Don't mention that Springfield failed to put in their payments for the pension plan) After all if I hadn't had the union when I worked for the State I wouldn't have the penison, health insurance I have now. When I was able to retire (when the state brought out my job position) I was making appoximatey $28,000 a year. Without the union job security would be nil (yes there are abuses) the workers would be at the mercy of their supervisors, work for low salary, no benefits, etc. Gee that sounds just like some companies I know of.
    Every time the union workers would get a raise (3,4,percent over 1-3 years) Springfield would get a bigger raise. I worked for the State not as a "public servant" but as a person who needed a job. I liked my job, there were times when I didn't of course. But I also saw such waste of money and workers time. I have morals, I dislike injustice, and I take offense at this group and others like it (including individuals) who say the state worker doesn't have morality or dislikes injustice, etc. The idea o-- As public servants, their first obligation should be to the public good." does not describe a typical person who works for the State. A typical person needs the job.
    Times have changed, a public servant is just a person who wants a piece of the American pie just like you.
    It isn't just the union who has screwed up this state. Open up the door and check out Chicago and its "needs", check out the salaries of all those who have powerful positions in government both state, county and city levels.

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