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Madeleine Doubek Headshot

Public Employee Salaries and Metra Severances Grow -- As Does Our Anger

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Headline: Metra CEO gets at least $442,000 to go away quietly

Headline: 2,000 more state workers make more than $100,000 a year

When will our politicians understand that this is exactly the kind of thing that angers we, the people, and prompts us to consider protesting?

Most state workers do not make more than $100,000 a year. Let's be clear about that. Most of them do make middle income wages with truly enviable benefits, especially health care.

Most of us in the private sector quit getting company contributions to our retirements years ago. We've been helping paying for our health coverage, if we're employed and have it, for even longer.

All we really expect is that the public sector employees take a few big steps closer to our private sector existence. We get that public service is public service and we appreciate the work you do, especially our teachers and emergency responders.

Still, more of you making more than $100,000 a year faster than ever. Really? News reports that courts are ruling that state public union workers get raises of 7.25 percent? Transit agency CEOs getting ridiculous golden parachutes to go away? It's all just maddening.

GateHouse News Service had an excellent report this week that showed a majority of state workers get decent salaries. But between 2010 and 2012, 2,000 more state workers crossed the line to make more than $100,000 a year. To be sure, many at the top are doctors, surgeons, judges and in jobs where a high income makes sense.

But the number growing over $100,000 is growing faster than ever. This, of course, exacerbates the strain on already-broke pension systems as the current arrangement allows monthly pensions to be calculated on that full end-of-career amount.

Meanwhile, mostly local politicians appointed by to serve on the Metra rail agency governing board in the Chicago metro region, are saying precious little about the departure of Metra CEO Alex Clifford. Yet nearly all of them voted to give Clifford a $442,000 severance package.

Clifford's only been running the agency for a few years, hired after a lengthy national search after the last chief, Phil Pagano, stepped in front of a trainamidst speculation he had cheated commuters and taxpayers out of about $500,000.

You'd have thought that tragic episode might have taught the Metra directors to be better stewards of taxpayer and commuter money. You'd be wrong.

The Daily Herald reported board members agreed to keep paying his $252,000 salary through next February, and then for another six months, any difference between his old salary and a future job's income. And then there's the other gold-plated perks that drive us crazy in the private sector. Clifford gets $35,243 for unused vacation days, $21,971 for unused sick days, reimbursement for his pension contributions, a $78,000 payment for selling his home and another $75,000 for lawyer fees.

In all, the Chicago Tribune reported Clifford could get $740,000 to walk away from his job.

Metra Board Chairman Brad O'Halloran, an Orland Park trustee, said Clifford got the deal to avoid a protracted court battle.

So, a protracted court battle probably would have cost more than $740,000. That's a sad fact we'll comment on some other day.

For now, we're just seething over all the gold-plated salaries and perks some public employees and quasi-public employees get and wondering when our politicians will wake up. When will they start spending our money as if it were coming out of their pockets, for a change?