An already expensive four-day legislative special session underway in Springfield could have cost taxpayers $56,740 more if it hadn't been for the efforts of a suburban lawmaker.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner Wednesday signed legislation, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, that freezes lawmaker pay rates and reimbursements as they travel down to Springfield to negotiate over a bill that would free up state funding for schools.
Bush's bill, which goes into effect immediately, caps all 177 General Assembly members' per diem rates at $111 per session day; lawmakers who travel more than 50 miles to the capitol would continue to be reimbursed 39 cents per mile. It would also eliminate a 2.1 percent cost of living adjustment to their annual salary, which has a base pay of $67,636 before stipends for leadership and committee roles. Without the legislation, per diems were set to rise to $142 per day, and mileage to 53 cents per mile, based on federal rates.
$48,000 per day -- and climbing
Senate President John Cullerton's office estimates that a special session costs roughly $48,000 per day -- and would have cost an added $14,185 daily without the bill for the session, which started Wednesday.
Bush, in a statement, encouraged the governor "to go one step further in saving money for Illinois taxpayers by disclosing his plans for his school funding veto and meeting with legislative leaders to negotiate a plan instead of wasting Illinois tax dollars on unnecessary special sessions."
While lawmakers passed a budget for the first time in over two years in early July, that budget came with a catch -- unless Rauner approves an "evidence-based" school funding formula, state money won't flow to schools. Lawmakers approved a plan, but haven't sent it to his desk, as Rauner says he'll strike a portion that would send $215 million in pension payments to Chicago Public Schools.
Rauner this week described Cullerton's calls for a legislative leaders meeting in lieu of a full special session a "sham" and a "diversion."
You've read here recently about a staff shake-up in Rauner's office, with overhauls to his policy and communications teams, as well as a change of those in charge of his campaign operation. What happened, we asked him this week when he took time to speak to the Daily Herald editorial board? "Battling (House Speaker Michael) Madigan and his political self-serving machine is very draining, very difficult, and sometimes, we need new troops," he said.
Surprise help at the door
What a pleasant surprise, Elayne Maruska of Palatine writes, to find 10 young people arrive at her home last week to pull weeds, do lawn work and "even clean gutters -- the dirtiest work possible." The volunteers hailed from Catholic Heart Work Camp, which has a base at Holy Family Catholic Church in nearby Inverness. Maruska's husband, Robert, is a wheelchair-bound World War II veteran. "What a blessing this is to us," she says.
A suburban soccer club from Waukegan won the U.S. Club Soccer National Cub Championship, considered one of the more prestigious in the country. The Westfield, Indiana, tournament, which concluded Monday, featured more than 4,000 players from 160 teams across 30 states. Waukegan's North Central United 13 and under girls team, led by coaches Sal Gloria and Nicole Kosowski, went undefeated throughout the tournament and beat Rev GU Academy's team from Rosemount, Minnesota, in the finals, while the club's 14 and under boys' team, coached by Gloria, also went undefeated and beat Seacoast United Maine's team in the finals. Congratulations to all.
A heads up that I'll be moderating an Aug. 15 forum on doing more with fewer government resources. Sponsored by the Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the 4 p.m. event at the Libertyville Civic Center, 135 W. Church St., is free and open to the public, and includes North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Mano a Mano Director Megan McKenna, Illinois Justice Project Director Paula Wolff and PortaeCo Chairman John Gates on the panel. Interested? Register at http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07ee6cycovb77c0a15&llr=nrgjbvcab.