Judge says taxpayers owe 2 Illinois senators who voted to reject raises
Judge rules in favor of two former state senators seeking the back pay they rejected and then crowed about rejecting. Ruling applies only to the pair.
Two former state lawmakers again have a judge saying they are entitled to the pay raises they very publicly declined while they were in the Illinois Senate.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza lost this round but vowed to appeal. She also tried some public shaming to stop former state Sens. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, and James Clayborne Jr., D-Belleville, from trying to collect the money they voted to reject.
“Now that they are out of office, these shameless grifters want the courts to reverse their votes, reaching into taxpayers’ pockets to give them those retroactive raises,” according to a statement from Mendoza. “Taxpayers already paid their salaries and are on the hook for potentially millions of dollars for these two men’s pensions. Greed and Gluttony are sins. The former senators should end their shameless crusade to take from taxpayers the raises they voted to decline.”
Mendoza elaborated in an op-ed April 13 in the Chicago Tribune. She stated he received $738,000 during 10 years in the Illinois Senate, makes $207,000 a year now as a Kane County judge, is pushing for the old cost-of-living raises he voted to reject and stands to start collecting a $225,000 pension which will reach $2.7 million over 20 years.
Regarding Noland, she wrote: “He would pat himself on the back and ask voters to reelect him because of his great self-sacrifice in voting to decline the raise. He was a chief co-sponsor of one of the resolutions to refuse the raise.”
About Clayborne: “Former Sen. James Clayborne, who likewise thumped his chest about his noble sacrifice in declining those pay raises year after year, joined Noland’s lawsuit to get them back.”
Cook County Judge Allen Walker issued an eight-page ruling April 8 that the pair had a clear right to claim the wages. He based the decision in part on an earlier ruling that the votes to forego cost-of-living raises and impose furloughs were unconstitutional because wages cannot be altered during lawmakers’ terms, even if the affected lawmakers voted to reject the money.
Noland sued the state comptroller shortly after he retired in 2017, seeking repayment for himself and all other members of the General Assembly who passed eight bills rejecting their annual cost-of-living raises.
“[T]he least we can do is cut our own pay again,” Noland said in a statement in 2012. “I know most working families in Illinois are not seeing raises this year, so we shouldn’t either.”
Clayborne retired in 2019 after a 24-year career, serving the last 10 years as Senate majority leader. He joined Noland as a co-plaintiff in 2018.
He, too, voted for the 2012 pay freeze and said this at the time: “Rejecting this pay raise is the right thing to do at a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet. As legislators, it’s wrong to ask our fellow Illinoisans to make responsible decisions if we are unwilling to do the same.”
While Noland initially sued on behalf of all state lawmakers, the new ruling only applies to the pair, the judge stated. Other state lawmakers would need to file their own lawsuits to claim the back pay.
Lawmakers since 2014 have received their salaries regardless of whether money was appropriated, thanks to a law passed in reaction to former Gov. Pat Quinn holding up funding for salaries to pressure lawmakers to deal with the state’s pension crisis. The cost-of-living increases have been deemed to be an integral part of compensation.
Illinois state lawmakers make about $70,000 a year. That does not include $10,000 committee chairmanship stipends, per diems, mileage reimbursements and other perks, not to mention retired lawmakers’ pension costs.
State lawmakers gave up pay raises between 2009 and 2016 as the state’s fiscal condition rapidly deteriorated, driven largely by pension debt. No state pension system is as poorly funded as lawmakers’ own system, the General Assembly Retirement System. It contains about 17 cents for every $1 owed in benefits, and is part of Illinois’ estimated $317 billionpension debt.
State lawmakers can reprioritize public service over self-enrichment by killing the automatic pay raises for the next group of lawmakers elected. But the bigger public service would be to embrace constitutional pension reform that stops mushrooming pension costs from crowding out public services for the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect calculation for Noland’s 20-year retirement payout resulting from an error by the state comptroller. It also included a cost-of-living raise for current lawmakers that she said has not been paid.