- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Over the past four years, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, has handed out roughly $1 million in pay raises to exempt, nonunion employees who don’t fall under state wage laws, as Illinois faces bankruptcy.

From 2011 to 2012, Ms. Madigan gave 57 exempt employees $460,000 in raises, and in 2013 and last year, 52 employees received wage hikes totaling $507,356 in extra payouts, according to data from American Transparency and the transparency website OpenTheBooks.com.

Ms. Madigan has boosted her friends’ salaries as her state teeters on bankruptcy. The state faces roughly $111 billion in pension debt and an additional $6 billion in unpaid bills, according to data from Illinois Policy, a nonprofit research group. Illinois bonds are rated worst in the nation, and if lawmakers don’t reform pensions soon, the state could spiral into default.

But that doesn’t seem to worry Ms. Madigan, according to fiscal watchdogs.

“Attorney General Lisa Madigan is out of touch with the seniors, taxpayers and families in Illinois,” said Adam Andrzejewski, chairman of American Transparency and OpenTheBooks.com.

“While families are doing more with less, Lisa Madigan handed out big pay spikes to political appointees. It’s another example of why taxpayers are angry,” he said.

Natalie Bauer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the salary spikes highlighted by OpenTheBooks are well-deserved raises for hardworking employees.

“Those reflect employees advancing in the office and taking on greater responsibilities,” Ms. Bauer told The Washington Times. “In any given year, due to significant turnover based on the office’s low salaries in comparison to other government lawyer salaries, we have many openings that come with greater case responsibility and/or supervisory responsibility and employees who have clearly demonstrated the skill to take on those new responsibilities are promoted.”

But taxpayer advocates are outraged that Illinois’ precious dollars are being used to fund raises for favored employees instead of paying down the debt.

“No one in Illinois who works for the state government should be getting a pay increase right now,” said Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of Illinois Policy. “It doesn’t matter if they are union or nonunion. We are broke; there is no money.”

One attorney general’s office employee whom Ms. Madigan rewarded was Cecilia Abundis, who received a 16 percent pay increase and promotion to assistant attorney general. However, records obtained by OpenTheBooks.com in a freedom of information act request show that Ms. Abundis has moved to Dearborn, Michigan.

Ms. Abundis works from home a majority of the year and does not have access to the Illinois attorney general computer system and is therefore unable to access information in the database including case files, briefs, etc., according to her time card and computer log-in records.

The Times was unable to reach Ms. Abundis for comment.

Ms. Bauer defended the pay raise, saying Ms. Abundis was a valuable asset to the attorney general’s office — no matter where she lives or what sort of state database access she has.

“Her salary is based on her experience and is consistent with other AAGs with similar experience,” said Ms. Bauer. “Based on her extensive experience working on specific consumer fraud matters, the office has allowed her to work part time from home and come into the office approximately one week per month and as needed for meetings and court appearances. She handles a number of consumer fraud investigations and is part of a team of attorneys working on several cases.”

Mr. Andrzejewski questioned the increased salary to an out-of-state worker.

“Every dollar that went to these questionable promotions was a dollar not available to serve some of the most vulnerable citizens of our state,” he said.

The Illinois attorney general’s office has been one of the most profitable government agencies in the state, and the money dedicated to the raises is offset by the savings they bring in, Ms. Bauer said. The attorney general’s office is also lessening its reliance on state funding in order to operate, she said.

“Since Attorney General Madigan took office, the office has generated over $10 billion for the State of Illinois, including $384 million for the state’s pension systems,” Ms. Bauer said. She also noted that public attorneys are paid less than those in the private sector.

Ms. Madigan has backed pension reform and pushed a proposal to lowers the annual increases in the cost of living allowances and to raise the retirement age.

However, watchdogs say more needs to be done and her proposal is insufficient to solve the state’s massive debt crisis.

“They just kind of tinker at the edges and it’s not going to be what Illinois needs to turn us around,” Ms. Rasmussen said of Ms. Madigan’s plan.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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