15 City Council members decline 9.62% pay raise tied to inflation

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) wants to cut the top pay for alderpersons and cap future pay raises at 3% a year.

The pay for Chicago City Council members is set to increase 9.62% on Jan. 1. The raise will boost the top pay for alderpersons to $142,772 a year.
The pay for Chicago City Council members is set to increase 9.62% on Jan. 1. The raise will boost the top pay for alderpersons to $142,772 a year. Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times
The pay for Chicago City Council members is set to increase 9.62% on Jan. 1. The raise will boost the top pay for alderpersons to $142,772 a year.
The pay for Chicago City Council members is set to increase 9.62% on Jan. 1. The raise will boost the top pay for alderpersons to $142,772 a year. Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times

15 City Council members decline 9.62% pay raise tied to inflation

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) wants to cut the top pay for alderpersons and cap future pay raises at 3% a year.

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Fifteen City Council members — including a mayoral challenger and a retiring member who may join the field — are saying, “No, thanks” to a 9.62% pay raise.

Among them is Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the powerful chairman of the Council’s Zoning Committee, who is retiring from the City Council in May after 20 years on the job.

He is still seriously considering joining colleagues Ray Lopez (15th), Sophia King (4th) and Roderick Sawyer (6th) in the crowded field of candidates seeking to deny Mayor Lori Lightfoot a second term.

Tunney and Lopez are among the 15 declining a pay increase tied to the rate of inflation that will boost the maximum salary for a Chicago alderperson to $142,772.

The others are Daniel LaSpata (1st); Brian Hopkins (2nd); Nicole Lee (11th); Marty Quinn (13th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Felix Cardona Jr. (31st); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th); Gilbert Villegas (36th); Anthony Napolitano (41st); Brendan Reilly (42nd); Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th).

The Sun-Times reported last month that City Council members were facing a political dilemma that could affect their reelection chances: a Sept. 2 deadline to decide whether to accept a raise of nearly 10% — a level most of their constituents could only dream about.

In 2006, the City Council approved a pay raise tied to the inflation rate and gave themselves political cover by passing the big-box minimum wage ordinance on the same day. Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley used his first and only veto to kill the big-box ordinance.

Ever since, Chicago alderpersons have been forced to make an annual decision: whether to accept the annual increase or decline it to curry favor with constituents.

This year, the political predicament for alderpersons now earning $130,238 — if they have accepted all of the annual pay raises — is magnified by the economic struggles everyday Chicagoans are facing at the grocery store and the gas pump.

“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 Jan. 1, 2023,” Budget Director Susie Park wrote in an Aug. 15 memorandum to City Council members.

“Attached is a form for you to use if you would like to decline this adjustment and remain at your current salary. Please return this form by Friday, Sept. 2. For each alderman that accepts the adjustment, the increase will be effective on Jan. 1, 2023.”

Shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday, the Office of Budget and Management emailed the list to the Sun-Times. It included the 15 names of alderpersons who have so far declined the automatic pay raise.

If Lopez has his way, City Council members will no longer have to struggle with the annual decision about their level of pay.

At the Sept. 21 City Council meeting, Lopez plans to introduce an ordinance that would reduce the annual salary for newly elected alderpersons and veteran alderpersons who have accepted all of the inflation-adjusted pay raises — from $142,772 to $120,000. That’s where it would remain for the next four years.

Future pay raises tied to the inflation rate would then be capped at 3%. And alderpersons would be required to serve their constituents full time. They would be prohibited from holding outside jobs.

“A 10% pay raise during the onset of a recession is outrageous. … It’s obscene. Nobody’s getting 10%. Our constituents aren’t getting a 10% raise. The only thing that’s gotten a 10% raise is the cost of everything that they need to buy because of the inflation,” Lopez said Wednesday.

“To say that aldermen are somehow deserving of a 10% raise … is a slap in the face to every working family in the city of Chicago struggling to make ends meet. Struggling to take care of their children. We should know better. And if my colleagues can’t be trusted to reject it outright then it’s time to re-evaluate this law that’s been in existence for nearly two decades.”

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to prohibit alderpersons from holding second jobs.

Those efforts have failed, allowing roughly a dozen alderpersons to continue working as attorneys, real estate agents, professors or consultants. Tunney owns Ann Sather Restaurants.

What’s different this time is that former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) was recently convicted on federal corruption charges and two sitting alderpersons — City Council dean Edward M. Burke (14th) and retiring Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) — are under indictment and awaiting trial.

“Being full time — restricting outside income — would go a long way towards reducing the appearance of impropriety that has long plagued the institution. It’s always the side jobs that apparently get people in trouble,” Lopez said.

Last year, Lopez was one of five alderpersons to reject a 5.5% cost-of-living raise. The others were Tabares, Cardona, Villegas and Martin.

Lopez, Cardona, and Martin continued to make $122,304 in 2022. Villegas gets $115,560. Tabares’ salary remained at $123,504.