Occasionally, while shopping for the holidays, a few lucky people may find they have a little more money than they thought. Are they putting the extra aside to help pay bills that are coming due soon? Or do they slip a little something for themselves into the basket?
Mark the members of the Illinois Legislative Assembly — most Democrats, at least — in the latter category.
In the closing hours of the lame session earlier this month, Illinois lawmakers voted themselves and several other elected officials and department heads on sweeping pay raises beginning this year.
Voting in the House and Senate took place on the evening of January 6 and January 8, respectively.
Members of the Legislative Assembly, who received a 2.4% increase in the cost of living in July, will see their salaries rise from $72,096 to $85,000 a year. The total will be even higher for committee chairs and other official positions within the Legislative Assembly.
Not bad for what is technically supposed to be a part-time job.
Wage increases amount to about 16 percent, some of the lawmakers’ voters see in a single year – or for a few years.
Department heads and elected officials, like the governor, will also see increases. And there is evidence that higher salaries are needed at this level to attract the best candidates. Governor JB Pritzker, already a billionaire, does not accept his salary, which will now total $205,700. But the job comes with benefits like housing and transportation that aren’t included in the total. For comparison, the superintendent of schools in Danville District 118 receives a base salary of $218,000 per year, according to a September 1, 2022 salary chart on the district’s website.
No Republicans voted for the salary increases and a few Democrats also opposed them. It will be interesting to see whether those who opposed the increases will act on their principles and return the extra pay to the state treasurer, or simply cash their checks and move on.
No one doubts that legislators work long hours, especially when the Legislative Assembly is in session. Even if the job is part-time, working with constituents is a year-round job.
But each of the lawmakers taking their seats in the new session knew how much work was worth when they announced their candidacy. The increases could have been easier to accept if the legislator had made them effective in four years. Distributing them right away seems a little wrong when many state residents are struggling to pay their bills.
Members of the Illinois Legislative Assembly already receive automatic cost-of-living increases each July, a good way for them to receive raises without voting for them. That, however, didn’t seem to dampen the momentum of the latest increase.
No one expects a chosen one to serve for free. The demand for talent from the private sector can also siphon off talented people unless civil servants’ compensation can keep pace with the labor market. It is understandable to offer a competitive pay scale.
Lawmakers, however, shouldn’t vote on increases and then benefit from that vote in a short period of time. Even if raises are voted on in a lame duck session like these and then handed out when the new legislature meets, there are enough of the same people in the same seats to make the whole situation seem self-serving.