State Budget Approves Lawmakers’ Cost-of-Living Raise, But Sets Aside $0

Lawmakers will not get a pay raise as part of the newly approved state budget — even though state law requires that members of the Illinois House and Senate get an annual boost to cover the increase in the cost of living, Comptroller Susana Mendoza said Wednesday.

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Although the annual cost-of-living increase was included in the $41 billion budget approved by the Illinois House and Senate late Saturday, lawmakers set aside $0 to fund those raises, Mendoza said.

Mendoza, a Democrat, released a video Wednesday afternoon as part of what she said was an effort to clear up “ongoing confusion and misinformation among lawmakers and the public.”

“So when you hear false rumors or assumptions that Comptroller Mendoza will have to pay legislators more this year, you tell them you heard it straight from the person whose job it is to cut the checks in Illinois: Legislator raises this year will be zero,” Mendoza said.

Last year, lawmakers agreed to increase their annual salaries by 2.4% to $69,464.

The confusion began immediately after mask-wearing legislators, who had not met since the beginning of March, approved a flat spending plan that depends on help from the federal government to keep the state’s finances out of the red.

The budget passed without the support of a single Republican lawmaker, and several members of the Illinois GOP began attempting to bludgeon their Democratic counterparts over the pay raise even before the late night vote was over.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said he was outraged that Democratic lawmakers did not remove the pay raise language from the spending plan.

“The audacity! The audacity for the legislature to accept a pay raise at this time in this history of the state,” Durkin said. “I am just blown away by this, that the Democrats in the House and the Senate found a way to slip into this bill a legislative pay raise because we have not proactively banned the COLA.”

But Democratic lawmakers said they left the pay raise language untouched — while preventing any money from being added to their paychecks — because of a long running lawsuit that has complicated the perennial hot-button issue of raises for lawmakers.

Two former Democratic state senators, Michael Noland of Elgin and James Clayborne of Belleville, sued Mendoza, saying annual pay raises due to lawmakers had to be paid because the Illinois constitution prevents their compensation from being changed during a two-year term.

Mendoza is appealing the decision of a judge in July 2019 that sided with the lawmakers, even though the case centers on pay raises the Illinois House and Senate voted to give up from 2009 to 2016.

The decision to earmark $0 for the raises was designed not to interfere with the ongoing court case, said state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). 

“At a time when our constituents are all feeling economic hardship and angst, for lawmakers to knowingly suggest otherwise is cheap, disingenuous, and indicative of the worst of our politics,” Manar said in a statement. “The people we represent deserve better and are owed the truth.”

The Illinois GOP, which holds no statewide offices and can be voted by supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate, used social media to draw attention to what they said was Democrats’ duplicity.

“Illinois has become a national symbol for corruption, cronyism and collapse — all in a days work for the Democrat majority — who took a raise,” the party tweeted.

Lawmakers’ pay is disclosed on the comptroller’s salary database website, and the 2021 fiscal year starts in July.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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