The Illinois General Assembly adjourned April 11 without passing a balanced budget or tackling essential reforms to save the state from financial ruin.
The budget impasse cost the state $31 million in 2016, according to the treasurer’s office, with each month totaling $2.6 million in lost investment revenue. Illinois has nearly $13 billion in unpaid bills. It isn’t covering the interest payments on its pension debt, which total $9.1 billion per year.
Yet state lawmakers passed just one bill out of both houses this year – Senate Bill 19, which would force the state to preserve union jobs even if they are no longer necessary. If enacted, the bill would cost the state $8 million in savings that could be realized from planned right-sizing and privatizing of nursing staff at the Illinois Department of Corrections, according to IDOC estimates shared with The Associated Press.
Aside from SB 19, the list of bills that passed out of committee includes a bill to create tighter regulations on trampolines and a bill to mandate instruction of cursive writing for public school students, which state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, cosponsored.
Even though the state is still without a budget, local lawmakers continue to receive their paychecks on time. From Jan. 1 through April 3, state Reps. Stuart and Daniel Beiser, D-Alton, each were paid a base pay of $16,959, according to FOIA records. In 2015, the last year of full-pay records, Beiser’s gross income was $78,162.96. Full-year records are not available for Stuart, who was elected in November. Though Stuart said earlier in the year that she was “refusing to accept my legislative salary until a budget is in place and am rejecting a taxpayer-funded legislative pension,” FOIA records indicate that a $5,653 check was issued to Stuart each month in 2017, totaling more than $16,000 thus far.
Beiser is chairman of the Environment and Conservation Committee, a role that comes with a $10,326 annual stipend.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza issued paychecks despite a March 28 appeal filed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan after a Cook County judge ruled that lawmakers could be paid in spite of the state’s massive backlog of bills. For what is considered a part-time job, members of the General Assembly earn a baseline salary of about $68,000 a year, the fifth-highest annual lawmaker base salary in the country and the highest in the Midwest.
While politicians take two weeks off, the state’s problems remain dire, and it's residents in the Metro East who’ll pay the price.
Illinoisans are struggling under the highest overall tax burden in the nation, a higher-than-average unemployment rate and the nation’s highest property taxes.
With problems this big, Illinois politicians should not have adjourned for a two-week spring break. Until the state passes a balanced budget, taxpayers in the Metro East and across the state will continue to struggle.