Illinois budget includes automatic $1,800 pay raise for state lawmakers
With more than 1.1 million Illinoisans out of work, some of the highest-paid state lawmakers in the nation are in line for a raise – though some are fighting back.
Update (5/25/20): Illinois lawmakers voted to approve a state budget May 24 on partisan lines, but failed to pass a bill stopping an $1,800 automatic pay raise for themselves.
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, claimed the budget did not include funding for lawmaker pay raises – a claim later echoed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “I do not think legislators will in fact get a raise this year,” the governor said in a May 24 press conference.
But regardless of what was included in the budget, lawmaker pay raises and other legislative expenses since 2014 have been defined as a continuing appropriation, which means lawmakers who want to nix pay hikes must pass a bill specifically to do so.
“The [pay raises] are on autopilot,” according to Springfield political blog Capitol Fax. “They have to vote themselves to stop it from happening.”
If Pritzker and state lawmakers fail to pass a law prohibiting lawmaker pay raises this year – and the state comptroller refuses to cut larger checks for lawmaker pay – they will expose Illinois taxpayers to lawsuits from lawmakers seeking to overturn an illegal salary freeze. While politically unpopular, such as lawsuit would not be without precedent. A retired state lawmaker in 2017 sued the state for backpay in spite of voting for pay freezes. And in 2016, a group of Democratic members of the House of Representatives successfully sued to get paid during the state’s budget impasse.
State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, took to Facebook to debunk claims of lawmakers halting political pay raises this year.
“A majority of Illinois legislators voted in party-line votes for a pay increase … Some politicians are using verbal gymnastics to try to deny it, but that is just a further insult on their frustrated constituents,” he wrote.
“The fact that they try to mislead and trick the very people whose taxes pay their salaries is the ultimate insult.”
State governments across the country are trimming payrolls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But not Illinois.
Instead, state lawmakers are in line for a roughly $1,800 pay hike, bringing their base salary to more than $71,000 for what is technically a part-time job. These raises would come at a time when 1 in 4 Illinois workers are out of a job.
Illinois state lawmakers already take home the fifth-highest base salary in the nation, according to a 2019 analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Among five other states with “full-time lite” legislatures, Illinois lawmakers already take home the highest pay.
Due to a law passed in 2014 under the leadership of House Speaker Mike Madigan and then-Senate President John Cullerton, lawmaker salaries, operating expenses and pay increases must be specifically prohibited for a given year for the payments to stop. This is what’s referred to as a “continuing appropriation.”
Last year more than 40 House GOP members signed on to a resolution opposing pay raises for lawmakers. But Madigan refused to call the bill, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a $1,600 pay hike for lawmakers.
This month, state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, introduced House Bill 5777 to axe the 2.6% raise this year, as well as last year’s 2.4% bump. More than 40 other Republican lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors.
In addition to higher pay for politicians, Illinois state workers are in line to receive $261 million in automatic pay raises on July 1. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has refused to call for government worker pay freezes, furlough days or other reductions despite more than 1.1 million Illinoisans remaining out of work.
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