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updated: 6/29/2011 11:00 AM

State legislators' stipends cost taxpayers $1.7 million

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  • Illinois lawmakers get stipends for chairing the legislature's numerous committees. Those stipents cost Illinois taxpayers an extra $1.7 million -- the second-highest in the nation behind New York, which will pay out $2.5 million in leadership stipends to lawmakers this year.

      Illinois lawmakers get stipends for chairing the legislature's numerous committees. Those stipents cost Illinois taxpayers an extra $1.7 million -- the second-highest in the nation behind New York, which will pay out $2.5 million in leadership stipends to lawmakers this year.
    Associated Press/File

  • A large slice

    Graphic: A large slice

  • Legislative salaries

    Graphic: Legislative salaries

 
 

Tom Morrison is one of the few Illinois state legislators to make $64,716 a year for his time in Springfield.

While that might seem like a lot to some, it's the bare minimum taxpayers will spend on a legislator this year.

The freshman Republican from Palatine is among just 41 lawmakers getting the base salary for their six-month lawmaking efforts.

The other 136 -- three-quarters of the Illinois General Assembly -- will get added stipends ranging from $9,851 for chairing one of the legislature's numerous committees to $26,212 for being House speaker, Senate president or minority leader.

Those stipends cost Illinois taxpayers an extra $1.7 million -- the second-highest in the nation behind New York, which will pay out $2.5 million in leadership stipends to lawmakers this year.

Massachusetts is the only other state that pays more than $1 million a year for legislative stipends. In fact, Illinois' stipend costs are higher than 40 other states' combined.

"The leaders of each respective party on each committee do a considerable amount of work and probably deserve extra compensation for the amount of work they do," Morrison said. "But we probably need to look at how many committees there are and pare that number down."

According to data provided by Senate President John Cullerton's and House Speaker Michael Madigan's offices, 41 senators and 60 state representatives receive a stipend for either being the chairman of a committee or the ranking minority member on the committee.

"It's just another one of those costs, that low-hanging fruit, that we could cut immediately out of state government," said Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican. "It's part of your job to be on committees and it comes with the experience to lead those committees."

Duffy receives a $9,851 stipend for being minority spokesman of the Senate pension committee. He said he wasn't aware all the stipends were costing taxpayers so much.

"It's not fair," he said. "Giving out these stipends should be cut. That's something I can look into and propose a bill to eliminate these stipends."

Marengo Democratic State Rep. Jack Franks said it's not the committees that are the biggest problem, but the 35 party leadership posts.

"Some of them aren't really earned," he said. "Especially the leadership jobs. Those are political positions and shouldn't get stipends."

Franks also receives a committee stipend, but said he'd have no problem if it was voted away.

"It's too easy to get some of these stipends," Franks said. "And $1.7 million? That's a lot of money."

Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, believes all the stipends should be scrutinized. The nonprofit government accountability organization has done studies on legislative salaries and benefits, she said.

"When legislators are paid so well that they don't need outside employment they tend to become isolated from the real-world economic climate," Rasmussen said. "You wonder if it's the public who are actually serving the legislators."

Last week, legislators voted to extend a 4.6 percent salary and stipend cut they imposed on themselves starting last year. The measure is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature.

"Giving up a few days pay is nothing compared to what (financially) hurt people across the state are feeling right now," Rasmussen said.

Antioch Republican JoAnn Osmond is one of six assistant minority leaders in the House who receive an additional $17,235 a year for the post. She said party leaders do put in a lot of extra work each year, even during the six months when the legislature is not in session.

"I don't think people realize the amount of work that goes into it," she said. "But that's not to say it's not something we could look at and review. I should say I am a little surprised by the amount of money."

Got a tip?

Got a tip for the suburban tax watchdog? Contact Jake Griffin at jgriffin@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4602. And follow him online at facebook.com/jakegriffin.dailyherald and twitter.com/#!/DHJakeGriffin.

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