Quinn has top job but hardly top salary in state government

Chris Kaergard Peoria Journal Star

For a state CEO, you’d never know it from Gov. Pat Quinn’s salary in comparison to those who work for him.

Quinn may hold the state’s top job, but according to a GateHouse Media Illinois analysis of state records, he’s only the 687th best paid employee on the payroll. Indeed, of the 6,215 employees in 2012 who made more than $100,000, more than 11 percent made more than the governor.

At the top of the heap is someone taxpayers might not necessarily expect, and almost certainly have never heard of: Robert Rupnik, the chief investment officer for the Teachers Retirement System. He brought home $357,500 in 2012.

That’s not out of the ordinary, though, said the spokesman for the pension system, David Urbanek.

“The job that our investment officer and our executive director (who makes $239,167 annually, ranking him 18th in the state) do are very specialized tasks,” he said. “If they were out in the public sector, they would each be earning at least seven figures. They have been successful in what they do.”

That includes earning a better than 12-percent annual return against an 8-percent benchmark, Urbanek said, translating into “the kind of results that our members expect and that taxpayers expect.”

Medicine pays

Eight of the other top 10 slots are taken up by doctors working for the state Department of Human Services, with salaries ranging from $300,193 to $255,475.

To a person, they’re all physicians at state-run mental hospitals, department spokeswoman Januari Smith said, many of them with years of seniority that helps to account for their higher pay. Other factors boosting wages include the fact that the doctors earn both overtime and on-call pay, and many are members of a state employee union, giving them mandatory pay hikes under their contract.

“They do provide a vital service, and, again, we do have to be competitive if we’re going to keep skilled medical professionals,” she said.

Judging pay

Meanwhile, Quinn isn’t even the highest-paid state official whose job is enumerated in the Illinois Constitution. The state’s seven Supreme Court justices each make $210,129. The dozens of appellate judges and more than 450 circuit court judges also top Quinn’s salary of $177,412.

Those judicial salaries are set by the Legislature, and they’re the highest in the nation for judges — a pinnacle they’d been climbing to over the last two decades.

Increases came regularly each year thanks to the now-defunct Compensation Review Board — whose recommendations were essentially rubber-stamped by lawmakers — the same group that set legislators own pay until they decided early this decade to abolish it.

That pay is something that has drawn notice for years, even in a 2010 Illinois Bar Journal article enumerating the benefits of becoming a judge.

The question involves more than raw salary, though, said David From, state director for Americans for Prosperity, a taxpayer watchdog group.

“Is the compensation commensurate with what employees in the private sector are earning for similar responsibilities?” he said. “When that gets out of whack, that’s when taxpayers are rightfully upset.”

That includes not just pay, but also health benefits and pension guarantees.

From noted that most private-sector salaries have declined or stagnated during the economic downturn, but state employees have continued to see pay raises thanks to the power of unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at the bargaining table.

“That’s just not reflective of what’s happening in the lives of the taxpayers. ... And it’s also not reflective of the realities of what’s happening in state government,” he said, while agreeing that the state did need to pay competitive rates for employees including doctors.

Chris Kaergard: 309-686-3135; ckaergard@pjstar.com; @ChrisKaergard