State lawmakers accused of questionable pay raises by committee
Illinois lawmakers are using a seemingly surreptitious way to give themselves pay raises: creating new and useless committees for which they are automatically paid an extra $10,326 as chairmen, a Chicago-based think tank is arguing.
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) says that legislation enacted in the House in January created 12 new standing committees, bringing the total to 45.
“In Illinois, bloat doesn’t discriminate,” senior writer Austin Berg said on the group's website. "Illinois lawmakers take home the fifth-highest base salary in the nation for what is technically part-time work. But that nearly $68,000 paycheck isn’t all they get. Lawmakers get some easy money from their party bosses as well."
Berg said this method of money-making isn't new, but Illinois appears to use it most often.
"No other state House in the country pays a bonus to this many standing committee chairs, according to an analysis of each state’s legislative bodies and 2016 data from the National Council on State Legislatures," Berg said. "Illinois is an outlier."
On its website, the IPI criticizes the tradition for its lack of incentive-based merit, suggesting that committee positions are awarded based on loyalty rather than effort.
House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) is the designated decision-maker on chairmanship, making it easy enough for him to handpick favorites, the group argues.
"And in the spirit of bipartisanship, Republicans get in on the game as well," Berg said. "The minority spokesperson for every committee gets the same stipend as their Madigan-appointed counterpart."
The group says that besides the mathematical significance, the tangible problem lies in the sheer lack of relevance for many or most of the committees.
“The system is so broken that some House committees barely bother meeting at all," Berg said. "Nine committees had fewer than five meetings in 2015. For the chairs, that’s $10,326 for less than a long day’s work.”
While there are so many House committees, one controls whether the other committees actually get to see any bills. The House Rules Committee, chaired by Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, is the gatekeeper of all legislation
“Every House bill begins in the Rules Committee. And if Madigan doesn’t like it, it dies there, never to be heard from again,” Berg said. “It is virtually impossible for rank-and-file lawmakers to discharge a bill from Rules.”
Berg added that the Illinois House is one of only two House chambers in the nation that “muzzles debate in such an extreme manner.”
State Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), who has proposed the “Get Government Back on Track” bill package to tackle some of the problems in state government, agrees that the current system is not working.
“The House rules consolidate too much power in the hands of leadership,” he said. “Rank-and-file legislators of both parties are often frustrated when they file a good bill only to have it buried in a subcommittee that never meets, or sent to a committee that never allows a vote.”
Demmer said many fellow legislators who have served in the General Assembly for a long time have told him that when they were first elected there were far fewer committees.
Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio have roughly half the number of committees the Illinois House has.
The Illinois Senate has 26 standing committees – four of which were added in January. Nationwide, the New York Senate is the only senate that pays bonuses to more standing committee chairs than the Illinois Senate.