No Budget - No Pay

Being an elected State Legislator is an honor and a privilege.  That being said, the job is part-time, and many of us in the legislature have full time careers outside of our government capacity. However, some legislators consider this part-time job to be their full-time job.  So when Comptroller Munger started putting politicians’ pay at the back of the line, these full-time legislators bristled.

Former Comptroller Munger and current Comptroller Mendoza both ran on a campaign promise of “No budget; no pay.”  If the legislators didn’t do their jobs then they would be prioritized behind vendors and nonprofits.  Most Illinoisans liked the idea of legislators not being paid unless they did their job and passed a budget, but some Chicago Area State Representatives did not appreciate the prioritization.

We have to remember that Illinois has, to put it mildly, a cash flow problem.  Through poor decision making on the part of our state government, our current bill backlog (short term accounts payable) stands at over $10.6 billion.  To paraphrase Comptroller Munger, every dollar matters when the backlog is so high.  She argues that legislators should be the last to be paid when critical social services and nonprofits are still waiting on the funds that they are owed.

Comptroller Mendoza, who has just assumed office, has promised to keep the practice of paying legislators last.  Last week she said, "My policy will be to prioritize the most vulnerable people in our state and continue the delay in legislators' pay, unless a court instructs me to do otherwise." That sounds good, right?

As if on cue, six Democratic legislators sued to have the courts to force the Comptroller’s office put legislator pay checks at the front of the line.  Coincidentally, they waited until Comptroller Munger’s last day in office to file the suit.  As Comptroller Munger put it: "How cowardly that they refused to challenge any action while I was in office, and now they are going to court when there will be a new administration taking office on Monday led by one of their own."

And who better to file the suit against the Comptroller than the same lawyer who challenged the 600,000 Illinoisans who wanted Independent Maps.  That’s right, the same lawyer who had the Independent Maps Amendment stricken from the ballot is the attorney who is representing the lawmakers who want to be paid.  What a coincidence!  If you’ll remember back to my previous column on Independent Maps, Michael Kasper (the attorney to whom I’m referring) has close ties to the current Speaker of the House.

In my opinion legislators should absolutely be paid last.  Every incentive that works to bring us to the negotiating table is needed, because the stakes are too high to run out the clock.  While it may be politically advantageous for one side of the aisle to delay agreeing on a budget in an attempt to hurt the Governor’s approval ratings, Illinois can’t afford the gamesmanship.  It sickens me to think that social services and nonprofits are being held hostage just so some political points can be scored.  As I said last week, we need a budget and we need it now!

I’ll end this week with Illinois Policy Institute’s assessment of the legislative pay issue: “Illinois lawmakers should keep in mind that they live in a state with the second lowest personal-income growth in the nation.  Too many Illinoisans have gone years without a decent paycheck… Their privilege in the face of suffering is staggering.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com.  You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.