Former Democratic senators demand higher salaries for Illinois legislators in lawsuit
Former Illinois Sens. Michael Noland (D-Elgin) and James Clayborne (D-East St. Louis) filed a lawsuit against the state which, if successful, will increase state lawmakers’ salaries to more than $81,000 by 2020 to rank Illinois' legislative salaries as the nation’s fourth-highest.
Noland and Clayborne claim that Illinois legislature’s decision to freeze state politicians' cost-of-living increases (COLA’s) from 2009 through 2016 was unconstitutional, despite both senators having voted for the freezes. The state’s constitution proclaims that “a [legislative] member shall receive a salary and allowances as provided by law, but changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”
Should the lawsuit reach a verdict in favor of the senators, the freezing of COLAs would be reversed, giving the 177 state lawmakers years’ worth of back pay and raises, while potentially costing taxpayers more than $13 million. Additionally, taxpayers will have to pay extra penalty interest on the back pay, and lawmakers’ pension benefits will be raised by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The possible new salary of $81,000 would be more than 20 percent higher than the current compensation of $67,836, which has been the standard pay since 2009. With this new increase, the average lawmaker that retires at age 60 during or after 2020 will receive over $375,000 in additional benefits.
Legislative salaries were already intended to be increased by $1,600 in 2020, which proved to be controversial among Illinois’ population. Even if Noland and Clayborne do not win their lawsuit, current lawmakers will still be awarded a pay hike.
The state constitution’s policies on legislative salaries were thought to be put into place in order to prevent lawmakers from rewarding themselves with a pay boost while in office. However, the lawsuit contends that the law was put into effect in order to restrict them from making any changes, such as reductions, during their terms. Judge Franklin Valderrama of Cook County agreed with this claim, referring to the blocking of salary changes as “unambiguous” and allowing the former lawmakers to continue pursuing their lawsuit.
Annual raises for lawmakers were originally based off of Employment Cost Index (ECI) of Wages and Salaries for State and Local Government Workers prior to the “freezing” of salaries in 2009. Under this, the state statute permitted salaries to continuously grow based off of the nation’s average increase in government salaries.
“Each salary is to increase by the same percentage as the increase during the last calendar year in the Employment Cost Index, Wages and Salaries for State and Local Government Workers issued by the US Department of Labor – up to a maximum of 5 percent in any year,” stated a report conducted by the General Assembly’s Legislative Research Unit.
According to information from Ballotpedia, the new raise would place Illinois behind only California, New York and Pennsylvania in lawmaker salaries.