Rauner signs bill prohibiting cost-of-living adjustments for lawmakers

Rauner signs bill prohibiting cost-of-living adjustments for lawmakers

HB 643 will prevent the $50,000 daily cost of special sessions from rising even higher in fiscal year 2018.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill July 26 to prohibit cost-of-living adjustments to the salaries of members of the General Assembly, certain elected and appointed employees in the state’s executive branch, and state’s attorneys. House Bill 643 applies to salaries in fiscal year 2018, which began July 1. The measure also maintains in fiscal year 2018 the $111 per diem payment and $0.39-per-mile travel reimbursement for members of the General Assembly during special sessions and veto sessions.

The per diem payment lawmakers receive was set to rise to $142 absent the bill the governor signed into law, according to the Associated Press.

The bill’s enactment will prevent the nearly $50,000 daily cost of special sessions from rising even higher.

No COLAs for lawmakers, executive branch employees in 2018 

In a state with a nearly $15 billion backlog of bills and $250 billion in pension debt, according to Moody’s Investors Service, it is only right that Illinois lawmakers forego a cost-of-living increase, as provided in HB 643.

Members of the Illinois General Assembly are already some of the highest-paid state lawmakers in the country. As of 2015, Illinois lawmakers cost taxpayers nearly $68,000 in base pay alone, far more than lawmakers in neighboring states and more than twice what lawmakers in Iowa and Indiana earn. In fact, Illinois lawmakers pay themselves the fifth-highest annual lawmaker base salary in the country, according to 2015 data.

When pensions and other benefits are added in, the average total operating cost to taxpayers per active Illinois lawmaker equaled more than $100,000 in 2015. And the General Assembly Retirement System, the pension fund that covers Illinois lawmakers, has only 16 percent of what it needs to pay out promised benefits. This means Illinois taxpayers pay lawmakers 2.5 times – once for lawmakers’ salaries and then the equivalent of 1.5 times salary to bail out the lawmakers’ pension system every year.

Cost of special sessions, veto sessions will hold steady

Rauner called the General Assembly to Springfield for a 10-day special session in June to get lawmakers to pass a state budget after the regular legislative session ended in May without lawmakers sending the governor a budget, and the state approached the start of a third fiscal year without a full budget in place.

Lawmakers spent the first nine days of that special session on less than two cumulative hours of work, at a cost to taxpayers of around $450,000. The budget the General Assembly eventually passed over the governor’s veto included a $5 billion tax hike and no significant structural reforms.

Most recently, the governor has called the General Assembly to Springfield for a special session that started July 26 to resolve education funding matters contained in Senate Bill 1.

Rauner called the special session because legislative leaders have refused to send SB 1 to the governor, despite the fact that the General Assembly passed the bill in May. The bill contains a $215 million annual bailout for Chicago Public Schools pensions, and the governor has said he will issue an amendatory veto of the bill when it arrives at his desk. The deliberate delay by Senate President John Cullerton in sending the bill to Rauner threatens to postpone the disbursement of state funding to public schools throughout the state, as funds cannot flow to schools unless SB 1 passes. Cullerton’s delay thus also threatens the ability of many schools to open on time in the fall.

Putting a brake on government spending by halting cost-of-living adjustments to officials’ pay and stopping increases in per diem payment levels is a good step. But lawmakers should also eliminate the need for costly special sessions by getting their jobs done without political gamesmanship and calculated delays.

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