Illinois House passes bills giving Pritzker more power, spending authority

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) -- Lawmakers in the House passed two bills Tuesday that will give the incoming governor's administration more power and more money.

Two of the last bills the Illinois House passed are meant for Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker. One would vacate the Illinois Tollway Authority Board of Directors, giving Pritzker the opportunity to fill all the seats on the board. Another would allow him to increase department director salaries by 15 percent, a move supporters say is needed to attract talented leaders.

The raises could cost an additional $700,000 and affect 49 positions in 27 different agencies.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, said that’s not the answer. She said there should be a fund for signing bonuses, not higher salaries.

“And then that way that’s not baked into their salary,” Mazzochi said. “It’s not baked into a pension formula.”

Mazzochi’s idea is similar to what outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner said he proposed, but lawmakers rejected.

Rauner made director pay an issue early in his term and ended up paying some directors out of other agency budgets, a longstanding practice known as “offshoring.” Lawmakers passed a measure barring the practice during Rauner’s term. The practice

The measure would have the effect of increasing salaries by tens of thousands of dollars. Outgoing Department of Agriculture Director Raymond Poe makes more than $133,000. A 15 percent increase would tack on nearly $20,000 more for Pritzker’s nominee John Sullivan. Former Department of Revenue Director Connie Beard made $142,000. A 15 percent increase there would tack on more than $21,000 for Pritzker’s nominee state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights. Harris abstained from voting for the bill Tuesday saying he may have a conflict.

Outgoing state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, opposed the bill. He said the future of bills passed in one session and sent to a new governor may be up to the courts.

“I’m a little worried that you may be passing a bill whose legality may come under question down the road,” Breen said.

The salary increase bill passed with 69 votes.

Rauner said he hopes it’s not a sign of increased spending under the incoming administration.

The Illinois Tollway Authority board bill gives the authority new bylaws and addresses other issues that have made headlines, including no-bid contracts and conflicts of interest with appointees on the authority.

State Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, who is headed to the new administration as a deputy governor, said the bill is necessary.

“This is not simply about getting new kids on the block,” Mitchell said. “This is about making sure that this agency operates with the integrity, the transparency and in the best interest of the public that all taxpayers should expect.”

While some lame-duck lawmakers supported the measure, outgoing state Rep Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, was opposed. She said the scandals at the authority were troubling, but called the bill a political move.

“It makes me mad,” Ives said. “But what you’re talking about doing here with this bill is nothing but a craven political agenda being put in place.”

Others highlighted how Pritzker instead could wait for terms to expire later this spring, or ask people with certain conflicts to resign. Other lawmakers urged for tolls to be lowered or for lawmakers to lower fines for missed tolls.

The tollway measure passed with more than 100 votes.

The Senate is expected to take up the bills Wednesday morning before adjourning to the new session.

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