Is the rule of a day’s work for a day’s pay unfair to our state legislators? They think so.
It is simply undeniable that Illinois has a long-standing political culture of corruption.
That’s why state Rep. Michael Murphy, R-Springfield, introduced HB 818 earlier this year to address a small problem related to the endemic corruption in this state. Is anyone surprised the bill is going nowhere?
If they are, they should not be. Our legislators have historically done nothing of substance on this issue unless they were pushed by public pressure to the point of having no alternatives but to take action or appearing to do so.
The issue Murphy is trying to address is a small one that wouldn’t save a huge amount of money. But it makes so much sense that it’s impossible to argue against it.
It involves our legislators’ generous pay. Each year, they receive 12 equal payments at the end of each month. No problem there.
Here’s the problem. They receive a full month’s pay whether they are a member of the Legislature every day of that month or only a single day.
The current system is a way for legislators to scam the system by being paid for time they didn’t hold legislative office.
Here’s a recent example.
State Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was indicted in October on a bribery charge. He allegedly offered payment to a member of the Illinois Senate in exchange for that senator sponsoring legislation Arroyo favored.
Arroyo wanted to stay on in the House. But Speaker Michael Madigan made it clear that if Arroyo didn’t resign, he would be expelled.
So Arroyo decided to resign. But he waited until Nov. 1 to submit his resignation so that he would be paid for the full month of November.
Having just raised their salaries by $1,600 a year this past June, state legislators are paid nearly $70,000 annually. Plus, the vast majority of them receive stipends that range from $10,000 to $30,000 a year as compensation for taking on leadership duties, like being a committee chairman or ranking member of a committee.
They receive the stipends even if the committees never meet, and some committees really do rarely or never meet.
So it clearly was in Arroyo’s financial interest to delay his exit until Nov. 1. It clearly was not in the public’s interest that he get a full month of pay for substantially less than a month’s tenure in office.
If readers find this distressing, the good news is that circumstances used to be much worse.
Back in the olden, golden days, legislators could request advance payment of their full salaries for an entire legislative term and then resign. Some of them actually pulled that stunt. Instead of being indicted, they were enriched.
So there’s nothing new about legislative monkey business when it comes to pay. But it doesn’t have to be that way, as Murphy’s bill makes clear. His legislation simply calls for legislators to only be compensated for days they actually held office in any given month.
Contrast the inaction on Murphy’s measure with all the caterwauling about the need for ethics reform in the aftermath of recent arrests of legislators and news reports of multiple pending federal corruption investigations.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for minor changes in the law. So did Madigan.
But what did they do? Not much.
Putting effective rules in place to discourage chiseling by our elected public servants isn’t that hard. But the governor and legislators have to want to do so. At least on the simple issue of Murphy’s bill, they obviously don’t want to.