SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers could be seeing a pay cut soon. Or at least some lawmakers voted to cut their pay. Whether statehouse paychecks will really shrink remains to be seen.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers could be seeing a pay cut soon. Or at least some lawmakers voted to cut their pay. Whether statehouse paychecks will really shrink remains to be seen.

The state House of Representatives approved a plan to reduce lawmakers’ annual salaries by about $6,800 and eliminate any cost-of-living increases starting this year. House Bill 2891 would save the state about $1.2 million, but there’s a major roadblock to it becoming reality.

The pay cut would apply to anyone who started a new term on or after Jan. 12, 2011, which is askew of the state’s constitution. The constitution states that any change in a lawmaker’s pay doesn’t start during their current term.

State Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, sponsored the plan. Mussman said she was trying to follow up on a promise she made constituents during the campaign. She said she hopes the move is a sign of solidarity to residents still reeling from the recessions.

“I think this is an important thing that we need to demonstrate to our community members that we really are in this dire situation with them, that we do feel the urgency and that we are working to solve this issue,” Mussman said.

Rank-and-file lawmakers currently make a base salary of $67,836 for what’s described as a “part-time” job. Legislative leaders pull down nearly $100,000 annually. Everyone in the General Assembly also receives an additional $139 every day when they are in Springfield for session.

Lawmakers also get pay bumps for serving on legisative committees.

The savings from her plan isn’t a lot compared to the $9 billion to $10 billion the state owes in old bills, Mussman said, but that’s not the point.

“I know the amount of money this will save will not fill the hole in our budget, but I think it is an important step forward, demonstrating to our citizens once again our deep commitment to putting public service they elected us to perform first and foremost,” she said.

Illinois lawmakers’ pay puts them near the top of the state legislature pay list. Only legislators in four states – California, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania – are paid more.

While the plan had wide support in the House – it passed by a vote of 85-14 – some lawmakers say they deserve their salary. Several lawmakers said they work hard for their money and need every cent.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said Mussman, who is a freshman lawmaker, was getting ahead of herself with this plan.

“If you’re new to the job, understand the job first, so you have the opportunity to dialogue with your constituents about what it takes to be a representative,” Davis said. “Maybe you can better help them understand that before you get pushed into a corner, and we have to vote on bills like this.”

Other lawmakers said that they earn every dollar they are paid. State Rep Monique Davis, D-Chicago, said Mussman should have thought about the workload before she made a campaign promise.

“Some of us, this is our income. And many of us may retire soon. We don’t want to retire on a limited income based on the pensions we haven’t paid.” said Davis. “With all do respect to you, I think we can find much better legislation to get you re-elected.”

The measure now goes to the state Senate where a similar measure has been proposed by Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris. She echoed Mussman’s sentiment of shared sacrifice.

“This is just a good (faith) effort to show the public we know we have to start with our pay first before we ask other taxing bodies and entities to take less,” Rezin said.

Lawmakers last pay increase came in 2008 when they got a 3.8 percent cost-of-living increase. That same year an additional pay increase of 7.5 percent was voted down in the General Assembly.

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