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State Senate gives selves pay raise

State Senate gives selves pay raise

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SPRINGFIELD — A day after approving a $1 boost in the minimum wage, the Democrat-led Illinois Senate defiantly voted themselves and other top state officials a double-digit pay raise.

The overall cost of the estimated 15 percent cost-of-living increases is more than $5 million and will fatten the wallets of all lawmakers, the governor, judges, county prosecutors and state agency heads.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, called the more than $8,000 per year boost headed his way “a little bitty raise” and said he deserves the money.

“We’re not asking for a ridiculous amount. We are underpaid,” said Hendon, who will see his base rate of pay rise to more than $66,000 up from $57,600.

Most lawmakers earn more than the base salary by receiving extra annual stipends of between $9,000 and $25,000 for chairing committees and serving in leadership roles in the General Assembly.

They also receive an expense check from taxpayers to help them pay for hotels, food and fuel when they meet in Springfield.

The governor’s budget office and the state comptroller said exact salary amounts under the new pay system were still being calculated Thursday.

Most Republicans and many downstate Democrats voted to reject the post-election pay increase. Stopping the raises would have taken 30 votes, but the measure only received 25 votes. Twenty-one senators voted to accept the increase.

Money to pay for the raises, however, is not in the current state budget. Lawmakers are expected to vote to add money to the budget when they return after Thanksgiving. The House also will likely take up debate on raising the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour. Also pending is a push to block a rate increase by ComEd and Ameren that could balloon residential power bills by up to 50 percent.

The bigger paychecks were OK’d despite a vote in the House in April to turn down the pay hike. State law says both chambers must agree to reject the pay raises in order for them to be blocked.

State Sen. Gary Forby, a Benton Democrat, opposed the increase and said he may donate the added money to charity if the House doesn’t vote to block ComEd and Ameren from raising their rates.

“I am going to wait and see what happens with the rate freeze issue. I just don’t think we ought to be taking a pay raise if people are going to see 50 percent increases in their electric bills,” Forby said.

State Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, argued in favor of the pay hike, saying judges and county prosecutors deserve the cash.

“It’s not really a pay raise,” Cullerton said, contending that there is a difference between a cost-of-living adjustment and a salary increase.

State Sen. James Meeks, D-Calumet City, told his colleagues not to be afraid of the political consequences of voting for more money.

“Hey, don’t be scared,” Meeks said. “There’s not one of our constituents that don’t want to be adequately compensated.”

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said the increase would make up for several years in which lawmakers have not received cost-of-living adjustments.

“When I fight for a minimum wage increase for everyone else, I need to fight for myself,” said Lightford.

In addition to lawmakers, Gov. Rod Blagojevich will see his paycheck rise to more than $170,000 annually, up from $150,691.

Blagojevich doesn’t support the pay hike.

“He’s not accepting the raise,” said spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch.

Secretary of State Jesse White will see his salary rise an estimated $5,000 to bring his salary to more than $150,300. The state’s top prison administrator, Roger Walker, likely will see his salary rise to more than $144,300.

The director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is expected to receive a salary of more than $128,000, up from $124,053.

State Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, sponsored legislation in the House that would have blocked the pay raises. He said he was disappointed in the Senate’s post-election money grab.

“There are many people struggling to make ends meet. This is unfortunate,” Flider said.

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