Revolving DoorOne of the best ways to get a high-paying state job is to leave a high-paying state job. And if that doesn’t work, making a political donation to the right person or party may also reap employment opportunities.

A Better Government Association investigation into fiscal years 2010 and 2011 (ending June 30) employment records for state agencies and the Illinois General Assembly found instances of workers who left government service only to be rehired as freelance or contract workers—often by the same entity they just left.

In some situations, these workers draw a hefty salary for being an Illinois contract worker while, at the same time, being eligible to collect an ample state pension linked to their previous fulltime position. Illinois contract workers may work regular hours but do not get health or pension benefits like fulltime state staffers.

Moreover, the BGA investigation found a DuPage County-based lawyer, who along with his firm has given large donations to the Illinois Republican Party, was hired at a six-figure salary to spearhead the GOP’s redistricting effort.

“Whether a contractual arrangement makes sense depends on the circumstances involved,” Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s spokesman Brad Hahn said. “In some cases, the state can save by not having to provide employee benefits. In others, a service may only be needed for a limited period of time, so it is advantageous to avoid hiring another full-time employee. It just depends on the individual situation.”

Based on information provided by the Illinois Comptroller’s office, which tabulates the annual number of contract workers, the BGA investigation found:

DuPage attorney Phillip A. Luetkehans earned a total of $240,000 in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, through March 15, working for the Illinois Senate Republicans on map revision proposals for redistricting.

The BGA previously reported that Luetkehans does similar work for DuPage County government. He and his law firm have donated more than $22,000 to the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee.

“This is someone whose services we depend on,” said Patty Schuh, spokesperson for Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

Luetkehans has served as a redistricting lawyer for the Republicans in the past and said his payment is worth it based on what’s at stake for the state GOP during the re-mapping.

Being a contract worker, Luetkehans gets paid on a regular basis as a state employee does. Had his firm been hired as an outside vendor, it would likely have had to wait for payment, which in some cases are running late for up to six months, and sometimes longer, because of the state’s financial problems.

“I’ve been the redistricting lawyer for the state for over 20 years,” Luetkehans said. “The House and Senate Democrats hired six or seven law firms. The only reason I’m on a contract was because it’s the only way to get paid. My law firm is a small law firm, we can’t do it by being (paid) 10 months behind.”

Mark A. Stevens made $191,179 working for the state’s Department of Revenue and the Illinois Gaming Board in fiscal year 2010 through Feb. 28 of this year. Stevens retired from the State Police in January 2008 and also collects more than $104,000 annually from his pension, according to documents from the State Retirement System.

The Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe said Stevens has been instrumental in regards to the regulatory ramp-up for the state’s 10th casino, which is set to open in Des Plaines.

“Mark Stevens is the project manager on the 10th license,” Jaffe said. “He is one of the old hats. He’s done every job you can do.”

Tommie H. Wofford Jr. made $167,957 in fiscal year 2010 through Feb. 28 working for the State Police and Illinois Gaming Board. He retired in January 2007 from the State Police and also collects $95,328 annually from his pension, according to the Gaming Board and State Retirement System records.

“You won’t find they have any political clout,” Jaffe said of Stevens and Wofford. “We hired the best people we possibly could.”

Jack Kubik who earned $70,000 in fiscal year 2011 though January while working for Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, according to Matt O’Shea, a spokesman for Cross.

He’s also collecting an $87,450 annual pension as a former state representative. O’Shea said his work includes “advising on policy, legislative issues, redistricting and media relations.”

David Furjanic, a former employee of the Illinois State Police was paid $159,644 in fiscal year 2010. Of that amount, $51,754 came in a lump sum when he left state employment, according to records from the Comptroller.

Furjanic is now a contract employee for the State Police and has made $18,537 in fiscal year 2011 as of the end of February. He’s also collecting $94,985 annually from his pension.

Representatives for each agency mentioned in the article defended the use of contract workers as a necessary way to get important, skilled work done without piling on the heavy benefits and pension costs crippling the state already.

Illinois is dealing with a budget deficit of nearly $15 billion and recently passed an income tax increase to help pay its bills.

The state spent $29.4 million in fiscal year 2010 vs. $25.3 million so far in fiscal year 2011. But lately, there has been an uptick in the total number of contract workers from 1777 in 2009 to 1818 in 2010. Data for 2011 is still being compiled.

The state’s Department of Human Services, which provides various kinds of aid to citizens, has spent the most on contract workers in fiscal year 2011 so far with $6.1 million while Central Management, which oversees state operations, has spend the least with $105.

The total number of staff employees has been going down in recent years. In 2010 there were 68,311 employees compared to 72,115 in 2006, according to the Comptroller’s office.