Illinois legislative paychecks add up to $15 million
Salaries, stipends, allowances and mileage reimbursements for Illinois lawmakers combined to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million last year.
That's according to 2011 financial records for 169 current and 45 former legislators compiled by Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's office.
While the $11.4 million in salaries made up the lion's share of the costs that went into legislative paychecks, a daily $111 allowance when the legislature is in session tallied another $1.4 million for the year, and mileage reimbursements added $430,000 across the board.
But it's the $1.7 million in leadership stipends that stick in the craws of fiscal hawks, including some legislators. Those stipends count toward a legislator's pension and can add as much as 40 percent to a legislator's base salary of $64,717. According to the comptroller's records, almost three-quarters of the legislators received some type of stipend ranging from $1,600 to $26,000 for holding a party or committee leadership position.
"Why taxpayers have the right to be upset about these types of expenditures isn't the amount of money compared to the overall budget, but what are we getting for it?" asked David From, Illinois state director of Americans for Prosperity, a national economic reform advocacy group. "We have one of the worst-funded pension systems, billions in unpaid bills and our job climate isn't getting better. We're not getting a good return on our investment, and that's not taking into account health benefits and pension costs for them, either."
Last year, taxpayers paid a little more than $11 million toward the state's General Assembly Retirement System, according to the program's annual audit report. Most of the fund's beneficiaries are legislators, but statewide elected officeholders are also members of that pension system. The additional pension costs created by stipends is just one reason why some legislators are trying to eliminate or reduce the perk.
"We continue to add committees because they want these stipends," said state Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican. "If we didn't have these stipends I guarantee you we wouldn't have all these committees."
Duffy introduced legislation in early February that would have eliminated many of the committee leadership stipends and thereby reduced pension obligations. However, by the end of March it had been killed by a Senate subcommittee. Duffy, who received nearly $10,000 more for his committee post last year, said many legislators are in no hurry to end the perk. Legislative leaders have the most to lose.
Party leaders in both chambers -- House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno -- were each paid $26,214 extra for their leadership posts, making them the highest-paid legislators. Additionally, Cross received $8,325 in per diems, Madigan's allowance added up to $8,214, and Cullerton and Radogno received $7,659 each. With mileage reimbursements included, the four legislative leaders' total pay ranged between $98,824 and $101,272 in 2011, according to the comptroller's figures.
"These leadership stipends just leave a bad taste," From said. "It's just another example of the system being rigged to benefit the politicians at the cost of the taxpayers."
However, supporters of legislative stipends say the money covers the additional costs borne by legislators who sacrifice their time out of session to handle government business. Additionally, many legislators point to the fact they voted to extend a 4.6 percent pay cut that went into effect in 2010.
Still, Illinois legislators are among the highest paid in the country. Only New York and Pennsylvania have higher base salaries, according to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Duffy said he plans to reintroduce his bill to curb stipends.
"You have to be strategic, specific and surgical to have a bill move along," he said. "Especially a bill like this that takes money away from legislators."
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Legislative paychecksLegislators tallied almost $15 million from taxpayers in 2011. Here's how it breaks down:
$14,942,995.80: Total legislative salaries, stipends, allowances and mileage costs
$1,678,456.33: Leadership stipends $1,389,276.00: Per diem costs
$430,634.44: Mileage reimbursements
Source: Illinois Comptroller's office