Special session stipends could cost $190,000, but lawmakers must wait

  • Calling legislators back to the Capitol for a 10-day special session could cost taxpayers at least $185,000 in daily stipends alone.

    Calling legislators back to the Capitol for a 10-day special session could cost taxpayers at least $185,000 in daily stipends alone. Associated Press file photo, 2014

 
 

Unable to pass a budget during the monthslong regular session, the Illinois legislature is arriving in Springfield Wednesday at the behest of Gov. Bruce Rauner for a 10-day, budget-centric special session that could cost taxpayers at least $190,000.

That's about what it would cost to pay all 176 legislators their $111 daily stipend for a 10-day special session running through June 30, the last day of the state's fiscal year. That doesn't include 39-cents-per-mile reimbursements many legislators will likely seek for traveling to and from the Capitol.

However, it could be quite some time before legislators receive those payments.

"They haven't received the per diems they were eligible for in the fall veto session, and we've been hearing complaints about that," said Abdon Pallasch, a spokesman for Comptroller Susana Mendoza. "We haven't paid per diems or mileage to legislators in calendar year 2017."

The last time legislators received stipends or mileage reimbursements was August 2016, according to Mendoza's office. And those were for a billing cycle from May of that year. Legislators are part of a massive cadre of people and businesses owed more than $15 billion by the state, according to an ever-increasing debt calculator on Mendoza's website. A standoff between Republican Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders has left the state without a budget for two years. Eventually, legislators would get the per diems and mileage -- unless they are among a handful who have refused the payments. A few legislators opt out of the stipend program each year by sending a letter declining the pay to either the secretary of the Senate or the clerk of the House. But they have to go through that process again to decline the special session stipends, state officials said.

Barrington Hills Republican state Rep. David McSweeney has already sent House Clerk Tim Mapes a letter declining the daily stipend that's intended to cover food and housing costs while in Springfield.

"We should not be paid special session per diems and not be reimbursed for mileage because the General Assembly didn't complete its work on time," he said. The regular session began early in January and ended May 31.

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It's unknown if any other legislators are declining the stipends. Mapes' office would not provide a list or a head count of other representatives who opted out. None of the 59 senators have declined the per diem, according to the Senate fiscal office.

During regular session, the daily stipends and mileage reimbursements cost taxpayers nearly $2 million annually, according to previous Daily Herald investigations.

Legislators are still getting paid their $67,836-a-year salaries, which often come with bonuses for chairing committees or holding party leadership posts. Many will ultimately receive public pensions for their time in office.

Legislative pay was withheld in 2016 by then-Comptroller Leslie Munger, who cited the absence of a budget authorizing the expense. But a court order forced Munger to issue paychecks to legislators in March and their paychecks haven't been affected by the financial crisis since then.

Pay has long been a political issue for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. After the Great Recession, the legislature voted to freeze salaries and take unpaid furlough days. Former Republican state Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin recently sued the state to recoup the money he lost during that time, saying the legislature had no authority to reduce legislative salaries in 2012. That's despite the fact that he voted in favor of the measure at the time.

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Contact Jake at jgriffin@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4602.

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