Central Illinois suffers while legislators take spring break

Eric Kohn

Eric Kohn is marketing manager at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Eric Kohn
April 21, 2017

Central Illinois suffers while legislators take spring break

Illinois hasn’t had a budget in two years. And it’s been more than 15 years since the state had a balanced budget. But lawmakers – who are currently on a two-week spring break – continue to be paid.

Illinois has gone more than two years without a budget of any kind, and it’s been more than 15 years since the state had a truly balanced budget. The state’s unpaid bills now exceed $13 billion. The unfunded state pension liability is at $130 billion and growing, and Illinois isn’t even making the $9.1 billion annual interest payment on that pension debt.

Just the budget impasse alone cost the state $31 million in 2016.

None of this stopped the General Assembly from adjourning for their two-week spring break on April 11.

Nor is it stopping lawmakers from getting paid.

Illinois legislators enjoy the fifth-highest base pay in the nation. In addition to base pay, some lawmakers receive an extra $10,000 stipend for chairing legislative committees.

Lawmaker pay remains Springfield’s top priority, thanks to state Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s recent decision to start paying legislators even though the court ruling which enabled the lawmakers to be paid is on appeal.

The legislature doesn’t have much to show for itself so far this session, but while lawmakers have failed to address Illinois’ pension disaster or any of the root causes of Illinois’ record setting out-migration crisis, politicians have passed many bills out of committee. That list includes a bill to create tighter regulations on trampolines and a bill to force the Illinois State Museum to exclusively sell products made in Illinois. . Additionally, state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, has co-sponsored a bill to mandate that Illinois elementary and high schools teach cursive writing.

The General Assembly’s inaction in the face of crisis helps to ensure that the Decatur area continues to suffer. Decatur is one of five Illinois communities currently in a recession. The Decatur metro region is also shrinking, with more than 800 residents leaving for greener pastures between July 2015 and July 2016. Decatur’s unemployment rate is 6.3 percent.

Illinois needs meaningful reform to set it back on the right track. Instead of taking a spring break, lawmakers should be back in Springfield looking to forge a real balanced budget, provide Illinoisans with property tax relief, and fix the state’s pension crisis.

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