We know Chicago city councilors are unlikely to turn down the 9.62% pay rise this week they are expected to receive next year.
It’s because they’ll say they’ve earned the raises.
And also because, since its creation, the members of the deliberative body have only rarely refused an opportunity to flourish, any more than they have refused their colleagues to grow a little too.
Council members currently earn a very respectable $115,000 to $130,000 a year. They should forego raises, given the economic hardship facing many of their constituents, some of whom can only dream of such a high salary.
It’s probably hope against hope. But turning down some or all of the raise would be the right thing to do.
‘Obscene’ salary increase
Councillors’ salaries have risen steadily since 2006, when members voted themselves annual salary increases linked to the consumer price index.
The aldermen were individually free to refuse or accept the increase each year.
This year, the price index has jumped, 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 aldermen will increase to $142,772 on January 1, 2023,” Budget Director Susie Park wrote in an Aug. 15 memo to members of city council.
The $142,772 represents the highest salary for Council members and not all will earn this amount. But they are all eligible for the 10% increase.
But Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), candidate for the municipal election next year, wants to curb the increases.
“A 10% pay increase at the start of a recession is outrageous,” said Lopez, who has turned down the Council’s last two pay increases.
“It’s obscene,” he said. “Nobody gets 10%. Our voters are not getting a 10% raise. The only thing that got a 10% increase is the cost of everything they have to buy because of inflation.
Lopez said he wants to introduce an ordinance at next month’s city council meeting that would set the aldermen’s salary at $120,000 a year for the next four years. Future annual salary increases linked to the rate of inflation would be capped at 3%.
But if the notion of limiting wages doesn’t doom Lopez’s proposed ordinance, this part of it certainly will: the current part-time position of alderman would become full-time, and Council members would be barred from have outside jobs.
Aldermen must say no
The late Ald. Berny Stone (50th) gave a colorful and alderman’s response in 2008 when a reporter asked him about turning down his pay rise.
“Kiss my royal,” he said. “Under no circumstances will I forfeit my raise.”
We expect many Board members to feel the same way now, albeit on kinder terms, as they face a Friday deadline to accept or decline the raise.
But Lopez is right: Accepting a 10% pay rise now for a well-paying, part-time public job just seems wrong, with many Chicagoans facing job insecurity and struggling to make ends meet.
Board members are expected to either scrap the entire pay increase or vote to take a significantly smaller portion of it.
Barring that, more aldermen should have the conviction to say no individually, like Ald. Matt Martin (47th), Lopez and three other board members did so when this issue arose last year.
“As I look at my own situation and reflect on the many challenges that my neighborhood and my city have faced, I think it’s the best personal decision for me to waive this year’s cost of living adjustment. “, said Martin then.
It’s a tough call, taking money out of your own pocket. But it was the right approach then, as it is now.
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