CHICAGO – Some Illinois lawmakers are taking matters into their own hands after the Legislature moved for the first time in years not to take furlough days to save taxpayer dollars.
Democratic state Reps. Fred Crespo, Marty Moylan and Republican Rep. Don Moffitt are among those who plan to donate to charity the minimum $3,100 in additional money they'll see in their paychecks this year. The change comes as part of a $35.7 billion budget plan that punts on crucial spending decisions until after the November election.
"Especially in these hard times, as people are losing their homes, I think it sends a signal that we're willing to sacrifice like they have to," Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, said.
Giving back the money also could be politically helpful in an election year. Like many of the lawmakers who have opted to give back the money, Moylan is facing re-election and is a top GOP target. Not taking the extra pay allows those lawmakers to claim they're being fiscally responsible at a time when the state budget is billions of dollars in the red.
Moylan plans to send a large portion of the money to his church and to other local charities.
Starting pay for the 177 members of the Legislature is $67,836, with many lawmakers getting extra $10,000 bumps for committee work and leadership roles.
Since 2009, lawmakers have approved legislation each year sacrificing one day of pay per month. But this year, budgeters said that legislation was impossible to enact, after a Cook County court ruling found Gov. Pat Quinn's July 2013 line-item veto last summer of legislators' salaries unconstitutional. Quinn moved to cut lawmakers pay – and withhold his own – as the state's massive underfunded pension liability remained unaddressed.
Quinn on June 30 largely approved the budget that he has criticized as "incomplete." The plan keeps funding for schools flat but doesn't allocate enough money to cover increased expenses, such as health care costs and wage increases.
The Chicago Democrat, who is facing his own tough re-election battle against Winnetka Republican Bruce Rauner, cut $250 million for renovations to the state Capitol, saying Illinois can't afford to move forward with improvements this year and directed state agencies to make additional cuts. However, he went along with the pay increase. In a legislative maneuver, it was tucked into bill that contained other programs that his budget office said would have been put in jeopardy if he had exercised his veto powers, including the state's borrowing authority to pay down its backlog of bills.
Moffitt, a Gilson Republican who's represented the 74th district in central Illinois since 1993, said the practice of donating a portion of his salary – including per diem pay – to charity became a habit even before that, when lawmakers were in deadlock over a budget under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"We'd be on the floor a few minutes and then recess," Moffitt said. "Taxpayers were getting nothing for it. "
He said he thought about writing a check and sending it back to the state, but ultimately decided charity was a better route.
"I think that's where it does the most good," Moffitt said.