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Illinois Public Salaries Expand Geometrically

Why Illinois Is In Trouble – 122,258 Public Employees Earned $100,000+ Costing Taxpayers $15.8 Billion Despite Pandemic

Illinois public employees and retirees with $100,000+ paychecks grew from 109,881 (2019) to an all-time high of 122,258 in 2020 – costing taxpayers $15.8 billion.

Congressional “bailouts” made it possible. The recent $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act provided an additional $13.5 billion to Illinois state and local governments. (Look up your hometown here — $350 billion flowed to states and 30,000 communities.)

Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com compiled the list of six-figure earners from Freedom of Information Act requests.

Barbers at State Corrections trimmed off $115,000; janitors at the State Toll Highway Authority cleaned up $123,000; bus drivers in Chicago made $174,000; line workers on the Chicago Transit Authority earned $222,278; community college presidents made $418,677; university doctors earned up to $2 million; and 171 small town managers out-earned the Illinois governor ($181,670).

Our interactive mapping tool allows users to quickly review the 122,258 public employees and retirees across Illinois making more than $100,000 (by ZIP code). Just click a pin and scroll down to see the results in your neighborhood rendered in the chart beneath the map.

Auditing the largest pay and pension systems in Illinois:

Public schools (40,000) – Last year, nearly 24,500 educators earned a six-figure salary while more than 15,500 retirees received six-figure pensions. Most Illinois schools were not back to fulltime, in-person instruction as of March 2021.

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Sixteen retired school superintendents pocketed $300,000+ in retirement pensions, among them Lawrence A. Wyllie (Lincoln-Way CHSD 210 – $351,250); Henry Bangser (New Trier Township HSD 203 – $341,433); Gary Catalani (Wheaton-Warrenville Unit SD 200 – $339,915); Laura Murray (Homewood-Flossmoor CHSD 233 – $334,418); and Mary Curley (Hinsdale CCSD 181 – $324,796).

Chicago (25,000) – We calculated that the city paid out $737 million in extra pay (overtime, vacation, supplemental, fitness, etc.) above base salaries. The Chicago police and fire departments paid nearly 1,000 employees between $200,000 and $430,000 in cash compensation last year.

The Chicago Transit Authority, operator of mass transit in the city including the “L” train, paid rail service supervisorsup to $239,806, ironworkers as much as $225,579, and line workers collected $222,278. A signal maintainer took home $191,627, a telephone line worker was paid $190,030 and a customer service representative made $185,152.

Colleges & universities (17,100) – The state of Illinois paid University of Illinois basketball coach Bradley Underwood $3 million last year. Top paid junior college presidents included a hefty salary for Christine Jean Sobek (Waubonsee Community College — $418,677), and a big retirement pension for Vernon Crawley (Moraine Valley Community College— $406,600).

Current Illinois State University President Larry Dietz (salary: $364,820) was out-earned by retired ISU president Clarence A. Bowman, who collected a $422,039 pension.

Fady Toufic Charbel ($2 million); Mark Gonzalez ($1.2 million); and Konstantin Slavin ($1 million) are million-dollar doctors at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). A UIC pension paying out $540,591 goes to a retired doctor, Tapas Das Gupta. The retired doctor from University of Illinois –Springfield, Leslie Heffez, has the largest pension at $635,122.

State of Illinois (16,500) – Six-figure salaries and pension payouts amounted to nearly $2 billion last year. Eleven barbers at Corrections made between $100,000 and $115,000. Veterans, Human Services, and Corrections paid between $100,000 and $260,900 to 559 nurses.

The ten top paid sergeants at the State Police earned between $200,100 and $268,700 while 238 officers made between $150,000 and $268,700.

A court-ordered monitor, Dr. Stewart Pablo, was paid $352,000 by taxpayers to report on the barriers to access mental healthcare within the prison system – his pay amounts to nearly $1.4 million during the past four years.

Cities & villages (9,100) – Small town managers collect high pay, along with perks and pension benefits. Top paid managers were Richard Nahrstadt (Village of Northbrook – $336,722); Stephen Gulden (Village of Romeoville – $301,821); Michael J. Ellis (Village of Grayslake –- $294,980); Jeffrey Rowitz (Village of Northbrook – $291,875); and Reid Ottesen (Village of Palatine— $283,899).

The interim village manager in Romeoville responded to our comment request and said that Stephen Gulden’s extra payments beyond $191,141 were the result of his retirement in November.

In the shadow of O’Hare International Airport, the small town of Rosemont (pop. 4,200) has three highly compensated officials: Patrick Nagle ($302,313—head of the Allstate Arena entertainment venue), Christopher R. Stephens ($295,813—Executive Director of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center), and mayor Bradley A. Stephens ($269,998) – who also made $69,413 as an elected state representative.

A village spokesperson noted that the two arenas were not mothballed during the last year, but continued to have a limited schedule.

Private associations, nonprofits and retired lawmakers

There are several legal loopholes for individuals to access state funding through private associations, nonprofit organizations, and state legislative bodies.

  • Retired Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) double dipped the pension system for nearly $238,000. Daley made $153,479 per year in state lawmaker pension payouts after a short eight-year career as a state senator plus another $83,784 per year in city pension payouts for his 22 years as the mayor of Chicago.
  • Three top paid earners within the municipal-government pension system work for private associations – not government. Brad Cole of the Illinois Municipal League pulled down $407,656, up from $313,997 (2019). Peter Murphy, executive director of Illinois Association of Park Districts, made $378,070, while Brett Davis, executive director of the Park District Risk management Agency, brought in $349,269.

These private nonprofits and associations muscled their way into the government system where taxpayers help fund and guarantee retirement annuities.

  • Peter B. Maggs and James J. Stukel are collecting government pensions of $453,512 and $439,575, respectively. Both retired from the University of Illinois Foundation, the nonprofit private fundraising agency for the University of Illinois.
  • Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar (R) double dipped pension systems: General Assembly pension($181,230 per year) and University Retirement System pension ($85,140). After “retiring” from the University of Illinois, he was hired back part time for another $62,769. Last year, Edgar’s total payout from all sources was $329,139.

We estimate that Edgar earned $2.4 million in compensation from the University of Illinois (2000-2013) and another $2.2 million in pension payments already paid-out from his career as legislator, secretary of state and governor.

Highly compensated locals

DuPage County employees have a history of hefty salaries and pensions. Top paid county employees included Richard Rushing ($263,509—deputy sheriff); Peter Balgemann ($241,168— chief deputy auditor); Ibrahim Khaja ($238,108—psychiatrist); Daniel Baran ($237,709—facilities manager); and Daniel Raysby ($227,959— detective).

Local park district administrators out earned the state director of parks ($156,900). These included James Pilmer ($256,256) at Fox Valley; Raymond McGury ($215,872) at Naperville; Michael Bernard ($212,708) at Wheaton. However, the top pension exceeded the highest salary: Elizabeth Kutska ($279,025) also from Wheaton.

Even water district employees tapped into the largess. David Miller pulled down $219,336 at the North Shore Water Reclamation District while Larry McFall made $214,901 at the Rock River Water Reclamation District. John Spatz made $214,479 at the DuPage Water Commission.

Possible solutions to the Illinois crisis

Last April, Illinois State Senate President Don Harmon wrote a letter to Congress asking for a $40 billion bailout. Congress eventually provided $13.5 billion.

Then, in November, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker wanted to hike the income tax during pandemic and pushed for a state constitutional amendment to allow for a progressive income tax. However, the voters shot it down, 55-45.

Our updated analysis at OpenTheBooks.com shows that an Illinois family of four now owes more in unfunded pension liabilities ($98,000) than they earn in household income ($63,585). In a state of 13 million residents, every man, woman, and child owes $24,000 — on an estimated $317 billion pension liability.

Illinois may have already crossed the Rubicon.

U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell suggested another path last April, “I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route.” McConnell specifically mentioned Illinois along with Connecticut, California, and New York.

Delinquent Tax Sales in Kansas

Wyandotte County says it auctions residential property as soon as the law allows — when taxes are three years behind. It says the goal is to put properties into “responsible hands” to improve the appearance of neighborhoods.

A lot of the properties don’t sell at auction, and the county then gets them through the Wyandotte County Land Bank, a public authority that now has about 3,500 properties — nearly all of them acquired through tax foreclosures.

Katherine Carttar, local director of economic development, said the county decided to be more proactive with delinquent property taxes about three years ago and to use the land bank more as a way to rebuild neighborhoods. At a virtual conference last year touting its successes, she showed slides featuring now-renovated homes and credited the program with raising property values and the county’s tax base.

Critics say Wyandotte County has a disproportionately high number of delinquent tax sales compared with the rest of the state, and that the effort deprives residents of hard-fought gains in communities that for generations have faced discrimination.

Wyandotte County, where 21% of residents live in poverty, has whole city blocks of foreclosed property for future redevelopment. Displaced property owners get no compensation, Haley noted.

Carttar says most properties in the land bank have been long abandoned. The upcoming online delinquent tax sale lists 43% of properties as vacant.

The practice comes against the national backdrop of a wealth gap between white and Black households. The “first rung of the wealth building ladder” is homeownership, said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive research group.

Nearly 72% of white Americans owned their own homes in 2017, compared with just slightly more than 42% of Black families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Here we are during a pandemic where the racial impact of the pandemic has not been equal. It has been disproportionately borne by Black and brown people and there is a huge risk of evictions and foreclosures coming out of the pandemic once the various moratoriums are lifted,” Collins said. “So it might be a time not to pursue aggressive tax sales.”

The two Black county commissioners who represent neighborhoods hard hit by the sales did not respond to interview requests from The Associated Press.

In the Dotsons’ case, Haley noticed that their house was on the auction list and alerted them. They went to pay the full $2,300 in delinquent taxes the day of the sale, but were told it was too late, Rozetta Dotson said.

They eventually got their home back — by paying back taxes plus legal fees for the attorney for the real estate company that had bought it. The total was $5,200.

Haley successfully warned another Black resident, Karen Pitchford-Knox, that the house where she’d grown up was on the auction block this January. When Pitchford-Knox’s mom died in 2016, she inherited the house as well as more than $5,000 in delinquent property taxes. She got behind on her payment plan after losing her job during the pandemic.

Pitchford-Knox had about two weeks to — as she put it — “beg, borrow and steal from Peter and Paul” the $1,000 for the taxes.

“I most definitely do feel they are targeting Black homes,” she said, noting she knew three other Black women whose homes were on auction lists. “I feel it is like Black female homeowners and Black seniors.”

Proposed Legislation

House Bill 0860 Amends the Property Tax Code. Provides that, in counties with 3,000,000 or more inhabitants, taxpayers of income producing property shall submit income and expense data annually to the chief county assessment officer on or before July 1 of each year. Provides that, in counties of fewer than 3,000,000 inhabitants, the county board may provide by ordinance or resolution that taxpayers of income-producing property shall submit income and expense data annually to the chief county assessment officer on or before March 31 of each year. Contains certain exceptions. Effective immediately.

The Future of Malls

A hint of what’s to come for dying malls: Phoenix mall owner sells out as property is rezoned for other uses

KEY POINTS
  • Mall owner Macerich announced Thursday it’s sold a majority stake in Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix to a mixed-use real estate developer.
  • The 92-acre site has been rezoned to create a new community with homes and offices.
  • Malls packed full of clothing and other retail shops are looking for a new life. Coresight Research has estimated that 25% of America’s roughly 1,000 malls will close by 2025.
Macerich's Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix, AZ.
Macerich’s Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix, AZ.
Google Earth

The future of the suburban shopping mall could look something like a mini community, with far fewer places to shop.

The U.S. mall owner Macerich announced Thursday it’s sold a majority stake in Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix, for $100 million, to a joint venture with an affiliate of the Phoenix-based, mixed-use real estate company RED Development. The partners will convert the 92-acre site into a community with homes, offices and a grocery store.

The 1970s-era Paradise Valley Mall has been rezoned to allow the sprawling plot of land to include high-end grocery options, restaurants, 3.25 million square feet of residential space, office buildings and some retail shops.

“As the retail landscape continues to evolve here in Arizona and around the country, our decision to realize the market value of this non-core asset makes sense for Macerich,” Macerich President Ed Coppola said in a statement.

Malls packed full of clothing, footwear and other retail shops are looking for a new life, as more consumers buy online and skip trips to dated department stores and archaic food courts. This transition was only accelerated by the Covid pandemic, which has kept many Americans stuck at home, surfing the web.

Market share and shopper traffic has also increasingly shifted to off-mall retailers such as Target and Walmart. One consumer research firm, Coresight Research, has estimated that 25% of America’s roughly 1,000 malls will close by 2025. Often, as one or two department stores in a mall close, that triggers a wave of closures by other businesses within the mall, leaving the owner no choice but to look for new uses or get rid of the property entirely.

“America’s malls have reached the end of their useful life,” said Mark Toro, a managing partner in Atlanta of real estate developer North American Properties. “Communities across the U.S. have turned their backs on what was once their center.”

“These properties often occupy real estate that would best be repurposed to better serve the community,” he said.

A few malls are becoming e-commerce warehouses to meet retailers’ rising demand for industrial space. Amazon, for example, opened a distribution facility where Randall Park Mall used to sit in North Randall, Ohio. It’s also taken over Euclid Square Mall in Euclid, Ohio.

Inside a mall in Burlington, Vermont, meantime, kids are now attending high school in what used to be a Macy’s department store.

The future of each struggling mall will likely be case by case, dependent upon the surrounding town’s needs, experts say. It could entail demolishing the property entirely, and undergoing rezoning, for a new community. In some instances, developers will view the land that the mall sits on as worth more than the mall itself.

Macerich, which owns or has interests in 47 regional shopping centers, said the transaction with RED Development closed Monday and generated net proceeds of about $95 million. It will retain a 5% stake in the project through the venture.

Macerich shares were up less than 1% on Thursday, having risen about 10% year to date. The real estate owner has a market cap of $1.94 billion.

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