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Question of the day

Wednesday, Jul 10, 2019

* Wirepoints

Illinois lawmakers could soon be receiving the nation’s 4th-highest legislative salaries as a result of a lawsuit filed by two former Illinois lawmakers.

Former Sens. Michael Noland of Elgin and James Clayborne of East St. Louis, both Democrats, have sued the state to unwind years of salary freezes they say were unconstitutional. A Cook County court ruled recently that the ex-lawmakers can proceed with their case against the state. State politicians’ cost-of-living increases, commonly known as COLAs, were frozen by the legislature each year from 2009 through 2016.

The fallout from the budget impasse also resulted in no increases to lawmaker wages through 2019. As a result, the annual base salary for members of the General Assembly has been $67,836 since 2009.

If the ex-lawmakers’ lawsuit succeeds, the wage freezes between 2009 and 2016 could be reversed and entitle Illinois’ 177 state lawmakers to years of back pay and raises. And if the “freezes” of the 2017-2019 years are eventually rolled in, the total back pay could cost taxpayers up to $13 million.

The recalculated raises would grow lawmakers’ 2020 salary to more than $81,000, an increase of more than 20 percent compared to their current $67,836 compensation.

* Zorn agrees with the judge on the constitutional issue, but points out some rank hypocrisy

High-mindedness oozed out of a May 2012 statement from the Illinois Senate Democrats.

The news release quoted then-Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne, D-Belleville: “Rejecting this pay raise is the right thing to do at a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “As legislators, it’s wrong to ask our fellow Illinoisans to make responsible decisions if we are unwilling to do the same.”

The quote from Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, was similarly sanctimonious: “The least we can do is cut our own pay again,” he said. “I know most working families in Illinois are not seeing raises this year, so we shouldn’t either.”

Both had added their votes to the upper chamber’s unanimous, bipartisan approval of House Bill 3188 that called for members of the General Assembly to take furlough days and forgo the regular cost-of-living raise built into state law as a show of support and solidarity with the citizenry during tough economic times.

Both have now gone back to private life, and together they are suing to get back the money that they so ostentatiously declined.

* Abdon Pallasch at the comptroller’s office…

If what’s really driving this is an overriding concern for following the state constitution, then if there’s going to be an order to pay everyone all these COLAs, the constitutional way to do this is for both houses of the General Assembly to have to convene a special session and go down there and ask taxpayers to foot the bill for per diems while everyone votes an appropriation and funding source for the back COLAs they voted earlier to decline. Just a thought.

* The Question: Should there be a vote or should the constitutionality issue be enough for a judge to order back pay? Make sure to explain your answer in comments, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - the Edge - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:00 pm:

    Haha, the GA should convene a special session to change the law about COLA’s and reduce their salaries accordingly to where the Judge ruled they should be.

  2. - Not for Nothing - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:01 pm:

    Vote. The Solomon esque thing to do is to build the right salaries into either a fall supplemental or next year’s budget and have GA members waive interest and the per diem bumps. M

  3. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:03 pm:


    The constitution.

    It needs to be seen not as a judicial order or interpretation. It needs to be exactly as it was meant to be; a constitutional move, as prescribed in said document.

  4. - The 647 - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:05 pm:

    Even if the laws were unconstitutional I believe that there is a sound legal argument that any legislator that voted for a pay freeze would be estopped from getting back pay from that specific under the doctrine of equitable estoppel.

  5. - Huh? - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:09 pm:

    Kill the per diems and mileage reimbursements. Give the raises as ordered by the court. Make the GA vote to appropriate the additional funding for the current salary as well as back pay and pension payments.

  6. - Norseman - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    We now have a wrong that needs to be righted. The preferable action is for the entity involved to redress the problem. I don’t see that a special session is necessary, but the GA needs to vote on an appropriation. If they fail to act responsibly, then the plaintiffs can ask for an order.

  7. - Steve - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    There should be a vote but… we live in the world of government by judiciary. Politicians prefer to have judges do unpopular things. Eventually we might even have judges attempt to raise taxes to pay for pensions.

  8. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:11 pm:

    My further hope is this can put to bed the “No Budget No Pay” silliness.

    The purpose of not allowing a governor, comptroller, treasurer to withhold pay from legislators is that equal branches can’t stop or demand from any seated general assembly an action… or they won’t get paid.


    Enough is enough of that too.

  9. - DuPage Saint - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:13 pm:

    And will increase pension. Noland did not go back to private life he is a Kane County judge and will no doubt get a judges pension

  10. - The Original Name/Nickname/Anon - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:15 pm:

    This would be a significant increase in the GARS liability

  11. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:24 pm:

    == Eventually we might even have judges attempt to raise taxes to pay for pensions. ==

    Based on the IL SC’s opinion in the SB-1 case, No. They clearly said it is the State’s / GA’s problem to deal with the whole pension funding issue. I didn’t go back and look up the exact language, but they basically said a fiscal emergency the State / GA caused is not a good excuse to try to invoke “police powers”.

    The only real spot on precedent we have is Arkansas during the Depression. If it gets that bad, I see the courts just ordering the pensions paid ahead of everything else … maybe even bonds. But we are a long ways from that point.

  12. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:27 pm:

    == This would be a significant increase in the GARS liability ==

    Yes, because it is so small and ubderfunded. That is a bit of irony that the first fund the GA may have to save is their own retirement system.

  13. - Dudley Magoo - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:28 pm:

    What happened with ASFME raises? Did the GA have to go in and appropriate the raises? Or is this not the same. Seems like the constitution is the constitution and the comptroller needs to find the money.

  14. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:29 pm:

    Given the circumstances of this case, a judge’s order may be sufficient.

    But it would be a whole lot cleaner and less questionable for the GA to pass an appropriation.

  15. - TNR - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:37 pm:

    == the constitutional way to do this is for both houses of the General Assembly to have to convene a special session and go down there and ask taxpayers to foot the bill ==

    Would love to see that happen, but more than likely, the judge will issue an order to the comptroller forcing her to pay up. That’s how state government operated for the first three years of the Rauner administration.

  16. - Angry Chicagoan - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:38 pm:

    If it’s ruled unconstitutional, surely that would be the cue for voters to finally endorse a constitutional convention? And it will poison the well of Illinois politics until such a convention is endorsed. It’s odd because the pay itself probably isn’t unreasonable in terms of professionalizing the legislature and opening the legislature to people from as wide a possible range of different backgrounds. But Zorn’s point about sanctimony is spot-on.

  17. - Seats - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:43 pm:

    There should be a vote. I don’t have an issue with the increase. But I have an issue with the recent raise, because they possibly dont pass their newest pay increase if this ruling came out just weeks earlier.

  18. - Leatherneck - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:43 pm:

    - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:11 pm:

    My further hope is this can put to bed the “No Budget No Pay” silliness.

    The purpose of not allowing a governor, comptroller, treasurer to withhold pay from legislators is that equal branches can’t stop or demand from any seated general assembly an action… or they won’t get paid.

    Very interesting and coincidental that Rich is asking this question on the exact 6th anniversary of 7/10/2013 (the last time July 10 fell on Wednesday). That was the day Quinn vetoed legislator pay from the FY2014 budget due to failing to pass pension reform.

    6 years ago today in Capitol Fax history:

  19. - AlienOverlord - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    Pay them without the vote. Then raise salaries slightly from that and make it full time (prohibiting outside employment except for limited exceptions)

  20. - Seats - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:46 pm:

    Also it seems odd that someone could run on saying they wouldn’t take an increase during the years there was no budgets, but then not only get an increase, but get the interest on said increase. It bothers me less for those who didn’t run on No Budget No Pay.

  21. - Cubs in '16 - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:47 pm:

    The constitutionality of the COLAs should be honored but members shouldn’t be obligated to accept the pay increases. In other words, the raise is available under constitutional protection but members should decide for themselves whether or not to accept it. This could be done with a simple form in which members check a box and the results should be made public. But I wouldn’t saddle taxpayers with the cost of a special session.

  22. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 12:47 pm:

    - Leatherneck -

    Extremely well played. Wow. Institutional knowledge with a search. Thanks. Cool stuff. OW

    ===But it would be a whole lot cleaner and less questionable for the GA to pass an appropriation.===

    Here’s my fear - RNUG - and I’d like to read your thought on it…

    I agree, it would be cleaner and less questionable. True. But then does it not take away from the clean look at the constitution too? By allowing there not to be legislative action, doesn’t that leave the ruling and constitutionality… unquestioned?

    By taking that extra step, does it set a legislative precedent not needed?


  23. - Truthiness - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:02 pm:

    Probably an unpopular opinion, but here it goes. I think the legislators should be paid more. If these jobs were treated as full time positions with competitive salaries and benefits, you would have more people stepping up to run. Right now all four caucuses are disproportionately rich older individuals who can afford to do this as a part time gig. (It also goes without saying that most government employees and staffers also deserve a raise. Higher salaries draw more talent.)

  24. - Annonin' - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:04 pm:

    Pretty sure no one thought the furlough day et al were constitutional at the time. The Zorn piece had an interesting walk down memory lane.

    Sounds like Abdon is suffering a pavement buckle from the heat or is drinking from the PQ Kool Aid cup… a vote after a court ruling?

  25. - A Jack - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:07 pm:

    Public money should not be spent without an appropriation. Article VIII, Section 2 (b). I don’t think a judge should be able to force an appropriation for the salary of an elected official. Heck, it took years for a judge to force an appropriation for state employees when Quinn wouldn’t pay them their salary increase. So Constitutionally the GA members should be paid, but Constitutionally they also need an appropriation before they can release public funds.

  26. - Boone's is Back - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:24 pm:

    This is a constitutional issue, and as such, should be decided by the Court.

    That being Zorn is spot on about the rank hypocrisy.

  27. - Name Withheld - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:26 pm:

    AJack - I’m not a constitutional scholar (where have I heard that before), but Article VIII, Section 2 (b) seems to require the GA to make appropriation for the expenditure of money. It doesn’t appear to my untrained reading that it gives them the option to withhold that appropriation (”shall” being the important word in “shall make appropriations”)

    Typically, this happens when the GA is creating a budget, but in the case where the expenditure is imposed - then it would seem to me that they have no option. Of course, such nuance is the reason why we have lawyers. :)

  28. - Grandpa2 - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:32 pm:

    Agree with Truthiness that legislators should be paid more, but with the caveat that there will be no outside employment. Full-time legislators prohibited from outside employment would cut down on opportunities for graft in its various forms.

  29. - pool boy - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:33 pm:

    The constitution would take precedence, but since they grandstanded to be like the rest of us, make them vote the next time they are in town to change the constitution and add this to the income tax proposal. $81,000 for part-time work with a great pension is a good gig if you can get it.

  30. - Just Another Anon - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:43 pm:

    @Name Witheld

    The IL SC held several years ago that “shall” means may in a directory context. Unless “the legislature dictates a particular consequence for failure to comply with the provision”, it is directory. See In Re M.I. 2013 IL 113776. As the constitution doesn’t specify a particular consequence for failure to do so, the appropriation language is directory and therefore “shall” means “may”.

  31. - T - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:45 pm:

    Why doesn’t JB just pay it out of his stash of money in the Bahamas where it is safe from a “fair” tax.

  32. - OutOfState - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    ===since they grandstanded to be like the rest of us, make them vote ===

    84% of House members took office in 2011 or after, and 27% just took office this year. The numbers are similar in the Senate.

  33. - Whatever - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:52 pm:

    As Just Another Anon said, the courts have already ruled that legislators must be paid, even without an appropriation. So it isn’t necessary and, if the GA won’t act to appropriate the funds, one of the plaintiffs could go back to the courts and get an order to the Comptroller to pay.

  34. - State of DenIL - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:52 pm:

    Public serpents, both of them.

  35. - Donnie Elgin - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    “Former Sens. Michael Noland of Elgin ….Both have now gone back to private life, and together they are suing to get back the money that they so ostentatiously declined”

    Nolan should ride his segway back down to Springfield in protest.

  36. - Cailleach - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    I thought there was a constitutional difference between “COLA” and “IIA.” I thought COLAs were vulnerable back when SB-1 was being debated. Or am I misremembering?

  37. - The Original Name/Nickname/Anon - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 2:56 pm:

    AAI (Automatic Annual Increase) is the statutory language for the post-retirement increases. COLA (Cost of living adjustment) is used to refer to any annual schedule increase to keep up with inflation. In this case COLA is referring to the annual adjustment legislators are supposed to receive while they are working, not post-retirement.

  38. - Northside dude - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 3:16 pm:

    When the legislators voted to take away colas they were following a Nationwide trend. Even the federal government followed. Numerous State legislators have dutifully voted against colas each and every year since the trend started in 2011. How could they not? One problem in Illinois and a few other states is that the language in the standard bill takes away colas for all governor appointees. Over almost a decade, this salary freeze has created a big problem; for example the arbitrators and commissioners of the Workers’ Compensation commission, up until July 1 had not had a dollar increase in pay since 2011. Arbitrators, the trial level judges, currently get paid $115k while circuit Court judges earn nearly $200k.

  39. - Just Saying ... - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 4:22 pm:

    The Constitution is clear, the legislative branch are the appropriators, not the judicial branchl

  40. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 4:36 pm:

    -OW-, I don’t like to see the judic side overriding the legislative when it comes to budgeting / appropriations; muddies the water and weakens the GA when it comes to future precedents. We already had too much of that during the Rainer years.

  41. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 4:38 pm:

    darn autocorrect

    judicial … not judic

    Rauner … not Rainer

  42. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 4:41 pm:

    ===muddies the water and weakens the GA when it comes to future precedents.===

    In this you are correct. You are also correct the Rauner year’s we’re ones where the judicial was far too visible, even if it was needed.

    My fear is some “Freshman”, looking to “teach” will devise that the constitution was somehow usurped by a vote of the GA, after a ruling, making the question itself muddied.

    It’s like trying to know what can be unintended consequences by trying to clean up a mess beyond the simple.

    Thanks. You always help. Your point is well taken.

  43. - MyTwoCents - Wednesday, Jul 10, 19 @ 5:27 pm:

    I think nothing should be done until the lawsuit is appealed and decided at the appellate and/or Supreme Court level. As of right now, all I’ve seen is a ruling by a Cook County judge. This is too important of an issue to leave it to a county level judge.

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