At the beginning of his freshman term, State Rep. Tom Morrison turned down the opportunity to join the General Assembly's lucrative pension system in a move officials could recall happening just once before.
Now the Palatine Republican plans to return more than $7,000 in surplus district office funds to the state treasury.
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"I have a responsibility to my constituents to not spend money just because it's been budgeted," Morrison said. "It's a message I'm trying to preach, so to speak, to others in positions of authority at all levels of government."
State representatives are allotted $69,409 annually for office space, staffing administration and outreach expenditures. The funds don't roll over year-to-year, so lawmakers lose what they don't use.
Morrison, a disaster cleanup franchise owner who campaigned on being fiscally conservative, said his district office at 117 E. Palatine Road in Palatine is modest and furnished with furniture, equipment and computers that were used, donated or purchased on clearance.
He said he carpools with other elected officials when possible, and instead of printing and mailing out material to constituents, he's turned to inexpensive electronic communication and social media.
Morrison isn't the only elected official to return a portion of their budgets. State Rep. Keith Farnham, an Elgin Democrat, recently said he too is returning more than $7,000 to the state treasury in an effort to follow the example of many of his constituents and do "some belt tightening."
It's unclear how widespread the practice is. The state comptroller's office stopped tracking district office expenditures in 1998. And Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the Illinois House clerk's office doesn't keep a tally.
Morrison, who's circulating petitions to make a run at a second term, said he wishes more Springfield lawmakers would take his lead.
"These are incredibly difficult times for taxpayers, and if there are savings to be found, pass them on to taxpayers and don't just spend it because it's been budgeted," he said. "That mindset drives me up the wall."