Exelon lobbyist pushes $14.4 million payday for Springfield lawmakers
The Illinois General Assembly voted for a decade to eliminate annual cost-of-living adjustments for lawmaker salaries after the Great Recession. Now, former state lawmakers are suing the state to put that money right back into politicians’ pockets.
An Exelon lobbyist representing a former Illinois lawmaker sued the state to secure a $14.4 million payday for legislators just before the vote on a ratepayer-funded bailout for Exelon’s nuclear plants.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is the defendant and said the lawsuit seeking a decade of previously rejected cost-of-living back pay for Springfield politicians was a “slap in the face for taxpayers.”
Springfield lawyer-lobbyist Eric Madiar is representing former state Rep. Michael Fortner, R-West Chicago, in a class-action lawsuit alleging Illinois lawmakers unconstitutionally voted to deny themselves cost-of-living salary adjustments between 2009 and 2019. The case filed June 1 in Cook County Circuit Court aims to recoup 10 years of cost-of-living raises and salary-lowering furlough days for all former and current lawmakers who served during the decade.
Analysis by the Illinois General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability found if Fortner’s case prevails, Illinoisans will be on the hook for at least $14.4 million in foregone cost-of-living pay raises, not taking into account legislator stipends for committee chair positions or the cost to legislative pensions.
Mendoza’s office found $2.8 million of these funds would go to the 177 currently sitting lawmakers in the Illinois House and Senate. The remainder would be paid out to retired members of the general assembly, such as Fortner.
A legislative analysis obtained by WBEZ estimates a retired House member who served from 2010 to 2019 stands to earn more than a $71,000 payment. If that member served in a leadership position during that time, they could expect to receive nearly a $90,000 pay day.
“I think it’s very clear from a right-and-wrong perspective that these individuals really pulled a scam on taxpayers, and it makes me sick,” Mendoza said, referring to lawmakers who previously voted to eliminate their legislative cost-of-living allowances and are now looking to cash in from the lawsuit. Fortner himself voted to suspend his cost-of-living adjustment seven times while in office.
Fortner’s lawsuit was filed after an April ruling by a Cook County judge determined laws freezing legislative salaries between 2009 and 2016 violated the Illinois Constitution, which prohibits lawmakers from changing their pay during their current term.
Cook County Judge Allen Price Walker ruled these laws violated the state constitution. He found former Democratic state senators Michael Noland, of Elgin, and James Clayborne, of Belleville, were entitled to a combined $160,000 in back payments for cost-of-living adjustments and furlough days. Both men repeatedly voted against the raises and trumpeted their sacrifices as being in solidarity with struggling taxpayers.
However, Walker stipulated the ruling only applied to Noland and Clayborne because they filed their lawsuit as individuals – not as public officials.
“This court cannot enter an order directing (Mendoza) to pay all members of the General Assembly,” Walker wrote.
Fortner’s lawsuit against the state comptroller looks to do exactly that.
The Illinois General Assembly returned to Springfield June 15 to vote on a new clean energy bill that would provide $694 million in ratepayer-funded subsidies for the three nuclear power plants owned by Exelon in Illinois.
Exelon stated that it has no interest or involvement in Fortner’s lawsuit, and that Madiar is not representing the former lawmaker on the company’s behalf