SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate officially confirmed the state jobs of two former Democratic lame-duck representatives who voted at the last minute to approve the historic 2011 income-tax increase.
The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm the appointments of Robert Flider to head the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Michael Smith to a seat on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The two are among 12 lame-duck lawmakers who voted in January 2011 to hike the state income tax 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses.
Flider, who has served as an interim since his February appointment by Gov. Pat Quinn, was confirmed on a 33-16 vote to the job, which pays $133,273 a year.
Smith, who has served unofficially on the board since June 2011, was confirmed on a 33-21 vote. The seat, which meets once a month and can be attended by phone, pays $93,926 a year.
Both votes came after pointed questions by Republican lawmakers alleging the jobs are political payback for their tax-increase votes. Quinn and the candidates repeatedly have denied that.
In Flider’s case, he campaigned against the tax increase but voted for it in his final hours as a state lawmaker after losing his 2010 re-election bid. Smith actively campaigned for a tax increase before losing his re-election bid.
Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, voted against both appointments. Duffy, who has repeatedly called the job positions a “Quinn pro quo,” said after Wednesday’s votes that the fix officially came in.
“It’s the same typical pay-to-play politics that has made Illinois a late-night punch line for comedians,” Duffy said. “These are people getting paid off for their votes.”
Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, voted “no” on Smith and missed the vote on Flider, but said she would have voted “no.” Althoff said she knows and respects both men, but did not accept that their nominations after their tax-increase votes were coincidence.
“They are lovely gentlemen; however, they are receiving these appointments, in my opinion, for voting for a tax increase and other initiatives that pleased either their party or their governor,” Althoff said. “In my view, this is a, ‘Thank you very much for what I wanted to achieve,’ and I don’t believe this is good, quality government.”
The 12 lame-duck votes were vital to approving the tax increase, which passed with the minimum required votes in both houses with no Republican support. Six of those lame ducks, including Flider and Smith, have since landed government jobs.
Democratic Rep. Careen Gordon, like Flider, campaigned against the tax increase but voted for it after losing her re-election bid. Three days after the vote, Quinn nominated her to fill an $86,000-a-year vacancy on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. She quit two months later just prior to her confirmation hearing after Republicans promised to grill her over the perception of quid pro quo. A month later, Gordon landed an $84,000-a-year job with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which did not require Senate approval.
Other lame-duck representatives who landed government jobs after their tax-increase votes include former Rep. David Miller, a dentist who lost his 2010 bid for comptroller, and now has a $117,000-a-year job as oral health chief for the Illinois Department of Public Health. Two other Democratic lame ducks, John O’Sullivan and Michael Carberry, got jobs with Cook County that pay $85,704 and $100,000 a year, respectively. O’Sullivan later was fired.
Duffy said he is concerned that the 35 lame-duck lawmakers leaving in January will be offered the promise of state jobs for controversial votes, including long-rumbling rumors of a possible attempt to make the income tax increases permanent instead of temporary. The threshold to get legislation approved is three-fifths in the veto session, but drops back to a simple majority in January.
“I’m worried that the same thing is going to happen – vote the way the governor wants, damage the state and hurt our business climate even more, and be rewarded with state jobs down the line,” Duffy said.
Althoff said she would not describe her feelings as worrisome, but said it would not surprise her at all if such lame-duck votes take place.
Lawmakers sold the 2011 income-tax increase as a way to pay down the state’s tremendous backlog of unpaid bills, but almost all of the new revenue has been swallowed by the state’s public-sector pension obligations.
Government jobs for tax-increase votes?
The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved the appointments of two lame-duck lawmakers to state jobs. Each voted for the historic 67 percent state income-tax increase last year.
• Robert Flider was confirmed on a 33-16 vote to head the Illinois Department of Agriculture, a job that pays $133,273 a year. Flider, who was nominated in February, campaigned against the tax increase but voted “yes” after he lost his re-election bid.
• Michael Smith was confirmed on a 33-21 vote to a seat on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The seat, which meets once a month and can be attended by phone, pays $93,926 a year.
Six of the 12 Democratic lame-duck members who voted for the tax increase in 2011, inlcuding Flider and Smith, have landed government jobs. The others:
• Careen Gordon ended up with an $84,000-a-year job as an attorney with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Gov. Pat Quinn first nominated her for an $86,000-a-year seat on the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, but she withdrew after Senate Republicans promised a grilling on the perception of quid pro quo.
• David Miller, a dentist who served 10 years before running for comptroller and losing to Republican Judy Baar Topinka, was hired at $117,000 a year as oral health chief for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
• John O’Sullivan was hired in May 2011 as a regional superintendent with the Cook County Forest Preserve District.The job pays $85,704 a year. He was fired five months later.
• Michael Carberry was hired by Cook County at $100,000 a year as deputy director in the county’s Department of Facilities Management.
Sources: Illinois General Assembly, Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal, Northwest Herald archives