It’s always about the money.
Many people may not have noticed, but legislators are the beneficiaries of a $1,200-a-year pay raise in the new state budget that takes effect July 1.
Legislators giving themselves raises is nothing new, except for one thing — they did not engage in the elaborate charade of turning down a raise they can collect at a future date.
If that sounds confusing, consider this bit of misdirection.
Former Republican state Rep. Michael Fortner of West Chicago recently filed a lawsuit demanding the payment of salary increases he voted to reject while serving in the Illinois House from 2007 to 2019.
Fortner’s action follows that of two other former Democratic legislators — state Sens. Michael Noland of Elgin and James Clayborne Jr. of Belleville. They, too, voted down the pay raises when they were in office but filed a successful lawsuit to collect once they left the Legislature and were beyond the reach of voters.
What’s the lesson here? Virtue signaling by our elected elite in Springfield should be taken with a grain of salt — perhaps even a teaspoon — because too often, it’s all sizzle and no substance.
That’s particularly true when their actions affect their wallets. Those who generally look out for No. 1 feel particularly protective of No. 1’s wallet.
The courts have ruled that the Illinois Constitution bars changing a legislator’s salary — either up or down — during a term of office.
So voting to reject an increase requires that legislators be sincere about not accepting the increase — either at the time or in the future.
Following the successful lawsuit by Noland and Clayborne, Fortner filed a class-action lawsuit that seeks back pay on behalf of all affected legislators, not just himself.
His approach, which drags all his former colleagues in on this self-dealing, has drawn the ire of state Comptroller Susana Mendoza. She has vowed to send legislators “the forms state employees can already use to distribute a portion of their salaries to charity.”
It also seems likely that Mendoza is likely to publicize the names of those who give their payout to charity or keep it for themselves.
Legislators took what they billed as selfless actions between 2009 and 2018 to show taxpayers that they were willing to sacrifice in the aftermath of the crashes of the banking and real-estate businesses that began in 2008.
They not only turned down some of the automatic annual pay raises they thoughtfully passed for themselves but took what they called “furlough days.”
In other words, they pretended to do voluntarily what millions of people across the country were involuntarily forced to do as the economy faltered.
It was a symbolic move on their part, one some obviously resented at the time that they are making up for now.