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Coby Mach, the voice of Lincoln's small business community, who often criticizes local government spending and government employee raises and benefits, earns more than $106,000 a year.

That's about 25 percent more than he made three years ago before the stock market crash.

Mach's salary as president and CEO of the Lincoln Independent Business Association went down this year, from $115,771 to $106,567, based on reports LIBA must file with the IRS.

But Mach was receiving double-digit increases during the heart of the recession, in years when he was encouraging the Lancaster County Board to freeze positions and cut benefits for part-time workers and urging restraint on city firefighter salaries.

In a November 2009 hearing on a proposed 2.9 percent hike in Lincoln Electric System rates, Mach urged LES to tighten its budget and pointed to problems in the local economy.

"Some would say that times are tough. We would say times are horrible. Businesses are laying off workers or closing. People aren't getting raises and homeowners are struggling while LES's budget calls for no staffing cuts," said Mach, representing LIBA's viewpoint.

That year Mach got a 16 percent raise, to $115,771.

Mach declined to comment on his salary and referred questions to LIBA board Chairman Tim Cox, who said he doesn't believe there is any hypocrisy in Mach's salary and raises and the LIBA stand on government spending, worker wages and raises.

His salary is far less than other downtown leaders, like the Chamber of Commerce president, Cox said.

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In addition, LIBA has a limited benefits package. There is a health insurance program, but no retirement program, Cox said.

The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied at the state level for a weaker public union system this year, paid its top executive, Wendy Birdsall, $178,728 in total compensation and retirement benefits for her work at the chamber and its economic development corporation in calendar year 2009, based on the chamber report to the IRS.

Birdsall would not comment on the salary, saying, "It's our policy not to discuss our salaries."

Financial information about LIBA is available to the public because it is a nonprofit organization exempt from income tax.

Vic Covalt, Democratic Party state chairman, criticized LIBA, a nonprofit organization, which "pays no taxes," for paying that kind of salary for what is a "part-time job."

"He's making considerably more than the mayor, with considerably less results," Covalt said.

"And it's a part-time job," he said, pointing out Mach also hosts an evening drive radio show on KLIN.

Cox said the LIBA Board of Directors makes salary decisions based on performance. Cox would not comment on specifics of the performance decision that led to Mach's raises or the recent drop in pay.

"He had excellent performance within the organization," Cox said. "Sometimes we have to make some difficult decisions."

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Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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