Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

July 12, 2013

Lawmakers won't let pay freeze rush pension fix

SPRINGFIELD — — SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Suddenly punished with the loss of their paychecks, lawmakers under pressure to solve Illinois' pension crisis say their progress is tied less to their take-home pay than the slow process of calculating savings for the state's coffers.

An impatient Gov. Pat Quinn suspended lawmakers' salaries and stipends this week, hoping that getting them back will serve as a proverbial carrot to force lawmakers to act more quickly. But the 10-member committee hunting for a compromise includes a number of lawyers, a businessman and others with alternative sources of income who won't feel an immediate financial pinch.

Many Illinois lawmakers consider themselves full-time legislators and rely on their yearly salary of more than $67,000, plus stipends for leadership or committee duties. But even those lawmakers insist that withholding their paychecks is not going to speed up their urgency in dealing with a tricky public policy question, even if it does hit them hard in the wallet and Quinn's move has the support of many frustrated taxpayers.

"Right now the governor's action is resonating with them," State Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat who is on the pension committee, said, referring to the public. "But I can tell you legislatively I don't know that it will do any good."

The National Conference of State Legislatures considers the Illinois General Assembly, which operates from January through May and calls special sessions as needed, a full-time legislative body. The base yearly salary for regular senators and representatives is $67,836, plus up to $20,000 in stipends for leadership or committee duties. Last year, they agreed to a furlough plan that cut pay by 4.7 percent.

The 10 members of the joint House and Senate conference committee on pensions are paid a range of salaries.

According to the state comptroller's office, Sens. Matt Murphy and Bill Brady — both leaders in their Republican caucus— are paid a total of $88,545 respectively from the state before furloughs. Democratic State Sen. Kwame Raoul and Rep. Elaine Nekritz, leaders in their respective Democratic caucuses, each make $78,163. Only one member of the pension committee, Democratic state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, receives the base salary without a stipend.

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