By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network
Regardless if they agree with last week’s ruling, Illinois state lawmakers, who are among the highest paid legislators in the country, are set to get a windfall in their bank accounts before vendors and social service agencies get paid for their work.
Thanks to last week’s ruling from a Cook County Circuit Court judge, lawmakers are set to get months of back pay processed that could be in the tens of thousands of dollars each.
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said the optics are horrible.
“We’re going on 21 months now without a budget in place with $12 billion in unpaid bills, it’s pretty hard to justify when we have so many people that are unpaid,” Butler said. “I can sympathize with the public and their frustration with it.”
Butler said he gets on net about $4,200 every month. Estimated pay from August through March would be nearly $38,000 in back pay.
Legislative leaders who get stipends above standard lawmaker pay would get more.
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said she’s been able to manage, but some of her colleagues have struggled.
“I believe firmly that we need to be getting a budget and getting money to social services agencies who are owed, but my colleagues are owed as well,” Steans said.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, responded to critics who say lawmakers aren’t doing their job because they haven’t passed a balanced budget and shouldn’t get paid before vendors or social services, saying the grand bargain is a work product.
“I know as lawmakers that we need to do our job,” she said. “We’re actually coming to Springfield weekly. We’re the ones who come up with a plan that’s being discussed. If we were not working there would be no plan that we would be talking about right now.”
State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said last week’s ruling was wrong. He immediately filed a bill to address the problem.
“It provides very explicitly that whenever we are overdue on our bills that the comptroller is able to put legislator pay in line with everyone else,” he said.
A similar bill has been filed in the House.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza has been criticized for not filing an immediate injunction to stay the judge’s order pending an appeal.
The state’s backlog of bills is more than $12 billion. The state hasn’t had a full year’s budget since the summer of 2015.
Lawmakers in both chambers are back at the capitol Tuesday.