Senate President Jones will allow pay-raise vote

Doug Finke

Senate President Emil Jones has had a change of heart and will allow an up-or-down vote on legislative pay raises this week.

Jones, a Chicago Democrat, told Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, Friday that he will give the chamber a chance to accept or reject the raises when senators meet today and Wednesday in special sessions called by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“He made a commitment to call the pay raise for an up-or-down vote,” Garrett said Monday. “I take him at his word on that.”

Jones spokeswoman Cindy Davidsmeyer confirmed the discussion.

The decision represents a change for Jones, who didn’t want the Senate to have to deal with the pay-raise issue until after the Nov. 4 election. Davidsmeyer said she didn’t know why Jones had a change of heart.

However, she said it wasn’t because of speculation that the pay raises will automatically go into effect Wednesday unless the Senate rejects them. Senate Democrat researchers have determined that Wednesday is not a deadline for the Senate to act, she said.

Under the complicated rules governing legislative pay raises, the increases take effect automatically unless they are rejected by both the House and Senate. The House voted earlier to reject them, but the Senate has never taken up the issue.

Garrett, the lead sponsor in the Senate of a resolution rejecting the raises, wants Jones and his top lieutenants to publicly say they are against the raises.

“We are not going to have all of the senators in Springfield this week,” Garrett said. “I think it is really important that leadership send a message that they are against the raises.”

Jones, however, has said he thinks he should get the pay hike. One of his top lieutenants, Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, also wants the money.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, another member of the leadership team, is against raising salaries.

“I don’t know if it (rejecting raises) will pass or not. I think that it will,” Sullivan said. “The important thing is to vote on it. There is never a good time (for legislative raises), but I can’t think of a worse time than now.”

“I’m glad (Jones) came to his senses and will allow us to vote on it,” said Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield. “I think it would be outrageous if he didn’t. I think the rejection will pass overwhelmingly.”

“I’m against the pay raise,” said Sen. Deanna Demuzio, D-Carlinville. “With the issues we have, like higher gasoline prices, we certainly don’t need to be looking at doing this. I think he wants to get this out there and get it over with.”

The state’s Compensation Review Board in April recommended raises for lawmakers, top agency officials and the six statewide elected officials that total 11 percent. That’s on top of 10 percent raises lawmakers received last year.

Part of that increase is a 3.8 percent cost-of-living allowance that kicked in July 1. Lawmakers included money in the new state budget to cover those COLAs, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich did not cut that money when he slashed more than $1 billion in other state spending.

However, lawmakers did not include money to cover the rest of the raises recommended by the pay panel. Comptroller Dan Hynes said Monday that, even if the remainder of the pay package is authorized, his office can’t pay for it. Lawmakers will have to add money to the budget later to cover the pay package, as they did with the last round of raises.

Jones’ decision to call the raises for a vote eliminates the chance that they could quietly take effect automatically after the election. State law stipulates the raises take effect automatically if the House and Senate don’t both reject them within 30 session days after they are presented to the General Assembly.

There was widespread speculation that Jones simply wanted to let the deadline expire after the election, preventing a vote in the Senate that might kill the raises, while also shielding senators from voter fallout.

However, Blagojevich has called lawmakers into special session for four days since the General Assembly wrapped up business at the end of May. By some counts, that meant the 30-day deadline to act is Wednesday.

Davidsmeyer, though, said Senate researchers determined that special-session days don’t count against the deadline.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527