Report: Illinois lawmakers' pay twice as high than in neighboring states
Instead, taxpayers have continued to financially support legislators’ high salaries.
According to a recent report by the Illinois Policy Institute, state legislators make $68,000 annually – far greater than lawmakers in neighboring states, and more than double the amount lawmakers in Iowa and Indiana earn.
“In fact, Illinois lawmakers pay themselves the fifth-highest annual lawmaker base salary in the country,” the report states. “On top of those salaries, the total cost of Illinois lawmakers also includes generous state-provided health care, dental and earned pension benefits. Taxpayers also pay for per diem costs and mileage reimbursements when politicians are in session.”
In 2015, the average total operating cost per active state legislator totaled $100,000 for what many view as, essentially, part-time work since the regular legislative session only runs from January to May each year.
Legislator salaries are often an additional stream of income as most lawmakers maintain careers outside of their work in the General Assembly.
“In addition, Illinois taxpayers are forced to pay millions every year to bail out lawmakers’ basically insolvent pension fund," the report states. "When that cost is added to taxpayers’ annual burden, it turns out they are paying lawmakers 2.5 times – once for lawmakers’ salaries and then the equivalent of 1.5 times salary for lawmakers’ pensions. In total, lawmaker compensation costs Illinois taxpayers more than $32 million a year."
Illinois hasn’t had a balanced budget since 2001, and has the worst-funded pensions and the lowest credit ratings among the 50 states.
When the state ended fiscal 2015 on June 30, the general fund deficit had grown to $6.9 billion from $6.7 billion in fiscal year 2014, the report by Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino showed.
The increased deficit was due to the partial expiration of a temporary income tax hike enacted in 2011 which decreased revenue by $1.8 billion.
After years of continued overspending, the state’s financial issues finally came to a head last July following Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of an out-of-balance spending plan sent to him by the Democrat-controlled legislature.
For a year, taxpayers witnessed the financially strapped state struggle to keep afloat without a budget. Efforts to resolve the unprecedented financial mess were largely fruitless as legislators continued to remain deadlocked on key spending issues.
Taxpayers never imagined the impasse would last as long as it did, crippling numerous essential state services and schools.
The state’s saving grace was the stopgap budget Rauner announced last month, which temporarily funds state schools and basic human services through January.
The “bridge” plan, Rauner said, is a bipartisan effort to keep the state running until legislators discuss reform, which Democrats have indicated they do not want to vote on until after the November election.
Though Illinois may have a temporary solution, the core issue is still embedded in legislators’ “disregard” for taxpayer dollars, the report says.
“Politicians’ unwillingness to rein in their own costs reveals an astonishing tone deafness and disregard for the struggles of Illinois taxpayers,” the report stated. “While there are some lawmakers who have opted out of the heavily taxpayer-subsidized state pension and health care plans, the Illinois General Assembly as a body should set an example for the rest of the state and implement long-overdue salary and pension reforms.”
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