Why Illinois Lawmakers Stand to Receive Pay Increases

July 23, 2015

More than three weeks into fiscal year 2016, the State of Illinois continues to operate without an annual budget. Despite the lack of a budget, members of the General Assembly are reportedly in line to get pay raises of about 2%, or at least $1,300 each, for the year that began on July 1, 2015.

The reasons are complicated and relate to prior legal disputes between Illinois governors and the executive and judicial branches of State government. As a result of previous court rulings and statutory changes, the pay increase is automatic, requiring neither a vote by the General Assembly nor the signature of the Governor.

law passed in 2014 made legislators’ and judges’ salaries and spending on legislative operations subject to continuing appropriation. Continuing appropriation is statutory authority to spend funds if the legislature fails to appropriate enough for a specified purpose. The authorized amount in the 2014 legislation was equal to the prior year’s appropriations.

The 2014 law was prompted by former Governor Pat Quinn’s decision to delete lawmakers’ salaries from the FY2014 budget. In issuing the line item veto in July 2013, Governor Quinn said he intended to pressure legislators to pass a bill to reduce the State’s burdensome pension costs. Two months later, a Cook County judge ruled that the move violated the provision of the Illinois Constitution banning changes in a lawmaker’s salary during his or her term of office.

Pay increases were not explicitly included in the 2014 law. Automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for General Assembly members stem from a practice begun in 1990 by the Compensation Review Board. The Board determined that salaries were to include COLAs based on the Employment Cost Index, Wages and Salaries for State and Local Government Workers, issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, up to a maximum of 5% in any year, according to a report in 2010 by the General Assembly’s Legislative Research Unit.

The General Assembly abolished the Compensation Review Board in 2009 and banned any COLAs for FY2010. Subsequently, for each year from FY2011 through FY2015, the legislature prohibited COLAs from taking effect. Similar legislation was not passed for FY2016, although a bill was introduced to ban pay increases during the current budget year. Governor Bruce Rauner also added a provision repealing the raises to legislation passed by the General Assembly, but the legislature did not act on the amendatory veto and the bill died.

According to the Legislative Research Unit, the COLAs were to be paid only if the General Assembly appropriated funding for the increases. At a press conference on July 21, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan said that the pay increases were not included in an FY2016 spending plan approved by the legislature at the end of May but largely vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner. 

However, Senate President John Cullerton told reporters the next day that the Illinois Supreme Court in the 2004 case of Jorgensen v. Blagojevich determined that COLAs were an integral component of salaries. In that case, the high court found that withholding judges’ pay increases violated the provision of the Illinois Constitution that forbids the diminishment of judicial salaries.

The Illinois Comptroller’s Office has reportedly said it intends to include the raises when it issues paychecks for FY2016 to members of the General Assembly. A spokesperson cited the 2014 law that makes legislative salaries subject to continuing appropriation.

Lawmakers’ base salary is $67,836, but many earn more because of stipends paid to leaders and committee chairmen. The House Speaker, Senate President and Minority Leaders of both chambers each make an additional $26,225, according to budget documents.