Judge says lawmakers shouldn’t be paid ahead of everyone else

March 17, 2017
By Brendan Bakala

Judge Garcia points to the lack of a budget as reason enough to delay payments to legislators.

Cook County Circuit Judge Rodolfo Garcia stated at a March 16 hearing that lawmakers’ paychecks cannot be expedited ahead of Illinois’ more than $12.5 billion in backlogged bills. Garcia’s statement was made in response to a lawsuit Illinois House Democrats brought over former Comptroller Leslie Munger’s decision to delay legislator pay just like the delayed payments to thousands of Illinois vendors.

“I think there are serious problems with the legislators coming here to make a claim,” Garcia said after listening to arguments at the hearing. The Tribune reported that Garcia would go on to say that the issue could be solved “by simply passing a budget.”

Despite his initial sentiment in court, Garcia has agreed to hear further arguments. The Tribune reported that lawyers from both sides have agreed to come back to court March 23.

Though Democratic challenger Susana Mendoza defeated Munger in the November elections, Mendoza has opted to keep Munger’s policy in place.

Reps. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Mary Flowers, Silvana Tabares, Lisa Hernandez and then-lame duck Rep. Kate Cloonen filed the suit against Munger in December 2016. The lawmakers cited a 2014 law House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton pushed through the General Assembly, and then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed. The law protects legislator pay from the appropriations process, allowing lawmakers to continually get paid, even if a budget is not passed for months or years.

It’s a guarantee no other state employee or vendor enjoys.

Illinois lawmakers are the highest paid legislators in the Midwest. The baseline salary for a member of the General Assembly is nearly $68,000 a year, for what is considered a part-time job. When benefits, per diem payments and stipends are included, the average Illinois lawmaker takes home $100,000 per year.

Unlike most Illinoisans, lawmaker pay is not tied to performance.

While politicians enjoy high pay, Illinoisans struggle – the state has the highest tax burden in the nation and some of the highest property taxes in the country, even higher than those in every state without income taxes. Illinois ended 2016 with the highest black unemployment rate in the country, and Illinois’ workforce in total is in a 10-year decline. Since 2000, 150,000 Illinois college students have left the state to go to pursue their higher education elsewhere; thanks in no small part to the more than 100 percent increase in tuition costs at Illinois universities and colleges caused by unsustainable pensions for university employees and widespread administrative bloat.

Rather than prioritize themselves, the sitting representatives should drop this lawsuit and work to pass a balanced budget. They should focus on paying back the more than $12.5 billion in bills currently owed to vendors for services already rendered. And instead of focusing on their own pay, they should be focused on how to solve Illinois’ systemic problems instead of perpetuating them.

TAGS: budget, lawmaker pay, Leslie Munger