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.