State lawmakers accused of questionable pay raises by committee
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers are using shady tactics to give themselves pay raises: creating new, useless committees where committee chairmen are paid an extra $10,326, according to a report from the Chicago-based libertarian think tank Illinois Policy Institute.
During that report written by Austin Berg, they reported that the legislature enacted 12 new standing committees in January, bringing the total to 45.
Berg writes, “In Illinois, bloat doesn’t discriminate. Illinois lawmakers take home the fifth-highest base salary in the nation for what is technically part-time work. But that nearly $ 68,000 paycheck isn’t all they get. Lawmakers get some easy money from their party bosses as well.”
Berg adds that this money-making scheme isn’t new, but Illinois uses this tactic far too often. “No other state House in the country pays a bonus to this many standing committee chairs, according to an analysis of each state’s legislative bodies and 2016 data from the National Council on State Legislatures. Illinois is an outlier.”
IPI criticizes the tradition for its lack of incentive-based merit, suggesting committee positions are awarded based on loyalty instead of effort and considering House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) is the designated decision-maker on chairmanship, it is far too easy for him to hand-select his favorites.
“And in the spirit of bipartisanship, Republicans get in on the game as well,” Berg further explains. “The minority spokesperson for every committee gets the same stipend as the Madigan-appointed counterpart.”
Illinois Policy also says that besides the mathematical significance, the tangible outlying problem lies in the sheer lack of relevance for many or most committees. Berg further writes, “The system is so broken that some House committees barely bother meeting at all. Nine committees had fewer than five meetings in 2015. For the chairs, that’s $10,326 for less than a long day’s work.”
With so many House committees, the House Rules Committee, chaired by Democratic Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, is the chief gatekeeper of all legislation and decide whether a bill will ever see the floor. As written by Berg, “Every House bill begins in the Rules Committee. And if Madigan doesn’t like it, it dies there, never to be heard from again. It is virtually impossible for rank-and-file lawmakers to discharge a bill from Rules.”
Berg adds that the Illinois House is only one of two House chambers in the nation that “muzzles debate in such an extreme manner.”
Republican State Rep. Tom Demmer (Dixon), who proposed the “Get Government Back on Track” bill package to tackle some problems in state government, agrees that the current system is not working. “The House rules consolidate too much power in the hands of leadership,” he said. “Rank-and-file legislators of both parties are often frustrated when they file a good bill only to have it buried in a subcommittee that never meets, or sent to a committee that never allows a vote.”
Demmer adds that many fellow legislators who have served in the General Assembly for a long time have told him that when they were first elected there were far fewer committees. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio have roughly half the number of committees the Illinois House has.
Included in the report was the four committees added in the state senate, increasing its total to 26.
Currently, compared to the state legislatures in the country, the New York Senate is the only state upper house of legislature that pays bonuses to more standing committee chairs than the Illinois Senate.