City councilors should reject pay rises
We know that Chicago City Councilors are unlikely this week to reject the 9.62% pay rise they will receive next year.
That’s because they will say they deserve the raises.
And also because since its inception, the members of the advisory board have rarely turned down an opportunity to fill their own nests, nor have they denied colleagues a chance to get a little fatter too.
Council members currently make a fairly respectable $115,000 to $130,000 a year. They should forgo the raises given the tough economic times many of their constituents are living in, some of whom can only dream of such a high salary.
That’s probably hope versus hope. But rejecting the raise in whole or in part would be the right thing to do.
Salary increase “obscene”
Councilors’ salaries have risen steadily since 2006, when members themselves voted for annual pay rises linked to the consumer price index.
Council members were free to reject or accept the increase each year individually.
This year, the price index took a leap, opening the door to a relative windfall for council members.
“In 2022, the consumer price index increased by 9.62%. As a result, the adjusted annual salary for councilmen will increase to $142,772 on January 1, 2023,” Budget Director Susie Park wrote in an Aug. 15 memorandum to council members.
The $142,772 represents the top pay for council members, and not all of them will earn that amount. But they are all entitled to the 10% top-up.
But Aldi. Ray Lopez (15), candidate in next year’s mayoral election, wants to curb the increases.
“A 10% raise at the start of a recession is outrageous,” said Lopez, who rejected the council’s last two raises.
“It’s obscene,” he said. “Nobody gets 10%. Our voters don’t get a 10% raise. The only thing that got a 10 percent increase is the cost of everything they have to buy because of inflation.”
Lopez said he plans to introduce an ordinance at next month’s city council meeting that will set councilors’ salaries at $120,000 a year for the next four years. Future annual salary increases linked to inflation would be capped at 3%.
But if the salary cap idea doesn’t doom Lopez’s proposed regulation, this part of it certainly will: the council member’s current part-time position would become a full-time position, and council members would be barred from holding part-time jobs.
Councilors should say no
The late Ald. Berny Stone (50th) gave a colorful and highly aldermanic response in 2008 when a reporter asked him about the idea of declining his raise.
“Kiss my king,” he said. “There’s no way I’m going to give up my raise.”
We expect many Council members to feel the same now, albeit in a friendlier way, as they have a deadline on Friday to accept or reject the increase.
But Lopez is right: Taking a 10% raise now for a well-paying part-time public sector job just feels wrong as many Chicagoans face job insecurity and struggle to make ends meet.
Council members should either cancel the entire pay rise or vote for a much smaller portion of it.
That being said, more council members should have the conviction to individually say no, like Ald. Matt Martin (47th), Lopez and three other council members did so when the issue arose last year.
“As I look at my own situation and reflect on the many challenges my community and my city have faced, I think forgoing this year’s cost-of-living adjustment is the best personal decision I’ve made,” Martin said at the time .
It’s a tough nut to crack taking money out of your own pocket. But it was the right approach then, as it is now.
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