Senate unanimously rejects pay raises
In a 47-0 vote, the Illinois Senate on Tuesday shot down pay raises for itself and the rest of the legislature.
The outcome assures that lawmakers won't pick up bigger paychecks anytime soon. Under the convoluted rules dealing with legislative pay raises, they take effect unless both the Senate and the House reject them.
But as of July 1, lawmakers already started receiving a 3.8 percent cost-of-living allowance that increases their base salaries to about $67,800.
The House voted in May to turn down the additional automatic raises, which amount to 7.5 percent. Despite efforts by some lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Susan Garrett of Lake Forest, a Senate vote did not take place during the legislature's spring session.
But Senate President Emil Jones said earlier this week that his chamber would vote during the special session days that Gov. Rod Blagojevich called for Tuesday to deal with education funding and Wednesday to deal with a capital program.
Jones, who has been a vocal supporter of the pay raises, said the issue results in “grandstanding” and “gameplaying.” He criticized Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn for calling on the Senate to reject the pay raise.
He insisted the Senate was not “pressured” into the vote.
The Compensation Review Board, a special panel that considers pay levels for lawmakers, top agency officials, statewide constitutional officers and certain other public-sector employees, recommended the raises. The board issued a report saying that lawmakers’ base pay should rise from the present level of $65,353 to $72,985 by July 1, 2009.
Garrett said lawmakers should send a message to Illinois taxpayers that they won’t accept a pay raise “in times like these.”
Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, in the spring derided Garrett as the senator from “Richville,” and he called her a “millionaire” who could afford to skip a pay raise.
On Tuesday, Hendon took a different stance, saying lawmakers don’t deserve a raise because they have been unable to do “the business that we needed to do,” such as agreeing on a capital bill and on how to fix education funding.
Three Democratic senators from Chicago, Jones, Donne Trotter and Kwame Raoul, voted “present” on the pay raise issue.
The Illinois House, meanwhile, met for less than a half hour before adjourning its special session Tuesday. Just 83 of 118 elected members answered the chamber’s roll call about 3:10 p.m.
House members spent most of their time on the floor delivering speeches blaming the governor for calling a special session on a complicated topic, education funding, without proposing specific legislation or a revenue source.
“Today’s a joke,” said House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego. “No agenda, no plan, no bill.”
In the Senate, Democratic Sen. James Meeks of Chicago sounded a similar theme, accusing Blagojevich of “calling us down here for absolutely no reason at all.”
“Everybody at home thinks that we’re here dealing with some educational matters, when in actuality we’re not,” said Meeks.
“When the governor calls a special session, the governor is supposed to have an agenda. One, two, three, what we’re supposed to do,” Meeks said. “He calls a special session on education without a plan, any ideas on education, and I just think it’s appalling.”
Blagojevich spokesman Brian Williamsen responded that the governor’s previous proposals to the legislature have been rejected.
“We were hopeful that lawmakers could have started a dialogue on finding some education funding solutions today, but that has not happened, and we are disappointed by the lack of action to this point,” Williamsen wrote in an e-mail.
Before the House and Senate convened Tuesday, hundreds of advocates for drug- and alcohol-treatment programs rallied in the Capitol rotunda to call attention to the funding troubles they face because of state budget cuts.
Allen Sandusky, who heads the South Suburban Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, said the governor’s budget cuts whacked $55 million from a statewide budget of $258 million for substance-abuse programs. The programs are losing an additional $55 million in federal matching funds as a result, he said.
Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 email@example.com.