FILE - IL Rep. Grant Wehrli 10-25-17

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, speaks on the Illinois House floor on October 25, 2017.

A state lawmaker said Republicans will continue to push legislation to curb what he called a bad precedent that Gov. J.B. Pritzker set when he decided to supplement the pay of state employees with private dollars.

Before taking office last year, Pritzker announced he would double the taxpayer-funded salaries of some of his top staff using his private wealth. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that the billionaire governor has spent around $3 million of his private money enhancing his top staff’s salaries. Pritzker has said he wanted to attract the highest quality employees for his office.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said the move sets a precedent that could make it difficult for future governors of more modest means to attract quality employees.

“Governance should be now and going forward based on how we can deliver for the people of Illinois,” Wehrli said. “It should not be based on who can pay their employees the most through private dollars. It is the height of hypocrisy when the Illinois Democratic party decries outside dollars in politics and state and federal government, yet they’re silent here.”

Wehrli said there's no way to see how the private dollars are being used to pay public employees.

“Are they doubling the salary? Is this a bonus for getting legislation passed? [That] would be of extreme concern, basically, that’s pay for performance when it comes to governance and that would be highly unethical,” Wehrli said.

A better way, Wehrli said, would be for the supplementary pay to come out of a campaign fund, such as Michael Bloomberg did when he served New York’s mayor. That would at least show how the money flows, Wehrli said, but even that raises questions. 

“Running it through a campaign account would add some clarity, but not enough clarity to where I’d be OK with it,” he said.

Wehrli said Pritzker’s wealth would be better spent elsewhere in state government.

“We have this thing called a bills backlog, it’s been building for decades,” Wehrli said. “Maybe he just wants to write a check and clear out the bills backlog. That would be a better use of his private dollars.”

As of Thursday, the state’s backlog of unpaid bills stood at $6.8 billion. Pritzker is reportedly worth about $3 billion.

The governor’s office did not return messages seeking comment.

Wehrli said he will file legislation to try and curb the practice, but being in the minority party, he doesn’t expect it to advance.

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, filed Senate Bill 2320 this week to bar private dollars from being used for public employee salaries. That measure says no state employee “may receive monetary or other compensation from any private party for work performed within the scope of his or her employment by a state agency.”

Lawmakers return to Springfield later this month.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.