McConchie: State legislators gleeful to have pay reinstated, though budget remains elusive
The jubilant moods of Illinois state legislators who want to be paid, despite their ongoing failure to reach a balanced budget for the state, is that a Cook County judge's recent decision agreeing with them is sad but expected, a Republican state legislator recently said on a Chicago-area conservative talk show.
"What they've privately said is, 'Look, we're doing work and so we should be paid for the work that we're doing,'" state Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorne Woods) said during a recent edition of Illinois Rising. "Which is really ironic because they're not actually -- we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing."
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rodolfo Garcia ruled in March that lawmakers must be paid just as the state legislators again took up the so-called Grand Bargain, their still elusive quest for a balanced budget. "And it's been really fascinating because, after the judge's decision, I would say that there was what I could refer to as 'glee' on behalf of a lot of these legislators that say, 'Hey, we were able to go ahead and get paid, all of our back pay done all at once. We were able to rig the system and not take responsibility for it ourselves. We got a judge to do it for us,'" McConchie said.
The Grand Bargain, proposed this year by state Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and state Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), has been criticized for being short on reform and long on taxes. Proposals being floated include an almost 5 percent increase in the state's income tax; a 9.75 percent corporate tax increase; and new taxes on services, business payroll, internet streaming services and sugary drinks.
Shortly before Garcia's ruling, McConchie sponsored S.B. 0989 to allow more flexibilty in withholding lawmaker pay.
"Essentially put our pay back in line," McConchie said. "Do exactly what our formerly Comptroller Leslie [Geissler] Munger had done. Our pay was put in line with everybody else. I mean hey, if we're not going to be paying our bills on time, there's no reason that our salaries, legislative and executive pay salaries should be paid on time."
The controversy over whether state legislators should be paid without a balanced budget and when so many other bills are in default began last spring when Munger announced that her office would delay lawmaker's monthly paychecks. Munger decided that other services would be at the head of the state's pay line.
"All those other payments to vendors who are doing business with the state in good faith and the state has not been keeping good faith with them," McConchie said.
That summer, lawmakers passed a stop-gap measure to keep the state running. In July, lawmakers received their paychecks for April and, shortly after, for May, but Munger continued to delay future monthly paychecks.
On Dec. 2, a few weeks after the general election, six Democrat state lawmakers sued Munger's office, claiming it was illegal to withhold their pay. The lawsuit was filed, probably not coincidentally, on Munger's last day in office, a move Munger called cowardly and self-serving.
Munger's successor, Susan Mendoza, a two-term Chicago City Clerk who served 10 years in the state House representing Illinois' 1st District, startled many when she pointed to the state's bill backlog, by then swollen to $10.4 billion, and said she would maintain Munger’s policy on lawmaker pay.
Garcia's ruling on March 23 effectively ordered Mendoza to change that policy and overruled lawmakers who believe it's a bad idea and unnecessary.
"Look, this isn't hard." McConchie said. "The work that's done down here isn't that difficult to do. Math is math. We know how much money we have coming in, we know how much money we have going out the door. We all make that balance at home. And when we don't make that balance, there's terrible consequences that come as a result. We go into debt. This is something we don't do to ourselves but we're happy to do this with other people's money for political gain, which is exactly what they've done in this particular circumstance for far too long."
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