Thursday, March 26, 2009
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Despite budget crisis, Ill. agency approved raises

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[March 26, 2009]  SPRINGFIELD (AP) -- A dozen officials at the Illinois Department of Transportation got raises averaging $6,000 a year during the waning days of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration, even as the state drowned in debt, The Associated Press found.

HardwareThe raises -- the largest amounting to an 11.5 percent increase, or nearly $10,000 -- came on top of a routine cost-of-living boost most department employees received Jan. 1. They took effect Jan. 16, two weeks before new Gov. Pat Quinn replaced Blagojevich, who was thrown out of office amid corruption allegations.

The increases come as Illinois faces an unprecedented budget deficit and as the federal government admonishes IDOT for not having enough people to oversee federal stimulus construction projects.

"These fat raises for top managers would be out of line in any context," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 300 IDOT employees. "They're especially disgusting given the state's huge budget hole and terrible staff shortage."

Quinn's administration had no response when asked about the pay hikes six weeks ago. But on Tuesday, Quinn told reporters in eastern Illinois he had just heard about the matter and would look into it.

"He's going to review the raises and see how they were decided upon, and he's going to have senior staff take a look at that to see if everything is as it should be," spokesman Bob Reed said.

IDOT spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said the raises were necessary to keep "seasoned management and staff" on board. The agency's personnel chief and director of finance and administration were among the managers who got the extra money.

IDOT officials initially denied anyone at the agency had received a bonus. Then the agency wouldn't comment, saying Quinn's office was handling all salary matters.

The AP ultimately found the pay hikes by analyzing nearly 11,000 salary transactions in hundreds of pages of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. It was only this week, after being shown the salary transactions, that a spokeswoman acknowledged some IDOT employees had received additional money.

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Quinn took over as governor on Jan. 29, after fellow Democrat Blagojevich was removed from office. Blagojevich faces federal charges of scheming to benefit from official acts, including the power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Last week, Quinn introduced a state budget proposal that aims to eliminate an $11.6 billion deficit through "shared sacrifice" -- including an income tax increase and cuts for state employees. Quinn wants state workers to take four unpaid furlough days, pay more toward their pensions and health insurance, and endure cost-cutting in state agencies.

Most Department of Transportation employees got raises that averaged $1,500 on Jan. 1. Two weeks later, 53 IDOT employees also got increases that averaged $4,934, or 7.3 percent. Most of those additional raises went to people whose title changed, records show. But 12 employees got the additional raises for no reason that appears in the documents.

[Associated Press; By JOHN O'CONNOR]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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