Fact-check: Gov didn’t give ‘pay raises to his politi­cian bud­dies’

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY KIANNAH SEPEDA-MILLER Bet­ter Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion

Anew group af­fil­i­ated with a na­tional Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion is tar­get­ing Demo­cratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker over the peren­ni­ally fraught is­sue of law­maker pay.

Illi­nois Ris­ing Ac­tion, a non­profit launched in March by Amer­ica Ris­ing Squared, is out with an ad ac­cus­ing Pritzker of putting the in­ter­ests of politi­cians above those of work­ing fam­i­lies dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic.

“While vot­ers were dis­tracted, Pritzker gave huge pay raises to his politi­cian bud­dies,” a nar­ra­tor says half­way through the 30-sec­ond spot, which in­cludes boil­er­plate im­agery of an en­ve­lope be­ing passed across a ta­ble. The group has said it spent $1 mil­lion on the TV ad buy.

The ad cites an ar­ti­cle pub­lished in May by a news sta­tion based in Quincy, which claimed state law­mak­ers “gave them­selves an $1,800 pay raise” by in­clud­ing a cost-of-liv­ing in­crease in the bud­get they ap­proved for the new fis­cal year, which be­gan July 1.

Lead­ers in the Demo­crat-con­trolled Gen­eral Assem­bly, long vo­cal about re­fus­ing such raises, are adamant there is no raise on the books. So we de­cided to check it out.

The bud­get in­cludes $0 for law­maker raises

There’s an in­ter­est­ing his­tory be­hind the way state law­mak­ers are com­pen­sated, a sys­tem long crit­i­cized as po­lit­i­cal cow­ardice.

Decades ago, every time law­mak­ers wanted more tax­payer money in their per­sonal bank ac­counts, they were re­quired to pass a bill. Vot­ing them­selves pay raises in lean years was a li­a­bil­ity come elec­tion time. So, through a se­ries of acts in the 1980s crit­i­cized at the time as back­door ma­neu­vers, they gave them­selves an au­to­matic cost-of-liv­ing bump each year.

That means the only time law­mak­ers need to act on their per­sonal pay is if they want to re­ject their au­to­matic raises, which they have rou­tinely done for most of the last decade.

But last year a cir­cuit court judge ruled un­con­sti­tu­tional the pay freezes for law­mak­ers passed dur­ing their terms. The long-stand­ing ma­neu­ver was chal­lenged in court by two for­mer law­mak­ers who want their back pay. The state is ap­peal­ing that judge’s rul­ing.

This year — faced with that le­gal de­ci­sion — Demo­cratic lead­ers took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach by freez­ing leg­is­la­tor pay in­di­rectly through their spend­ing bill. In­stead of re­ject­ing the pay in­crease, they sim­ply ap­pro­pri­ated no money for it. It’s a move ex­perts say could face sim­i­lar le­gal chal­lenges from dis­sent­ing law­mak­ers who feel en­ti­tled to their raises.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers are sus­pi­cious of this new tac­tic, which comes only a year af­ter Pritzker signed a bud­get that gave leg­is­la­tors their first raise since 2008, hik­ing their base pay to more than $69,000. The gov­er­nor de­fended that in­crease based on “how hard these leg­is­la­tors are work­ing.”

This year, Pritzker and the Gen­eral Assem­bly have promised no such raises, a point Pritzker re­it­er­ates in a TV spot of his own re­spond­ing to Illi­nois Ris­ing Ac­tion’s at­tack.

A fu­ture law­suit could force pay­ments

So we asked Illi­nois Ris­ing Ac­tion for their ev­i­dence that law­mak­ers are get­ting a raise this year thanks to Pritzker.

Kayleen Carl­son, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, re­ferred to yet an­other law, passed in 2014, that made law­maker pay a “con­tin­u­ing ap­pro­pri­a­tion,” which she ar­gues makes the $0 ap­pro­pri­a­tion for raises in the bud­get Pritzker signed an empty ges­ture.

“Since 2014, Illi­nois law au­to­mat­i­cally in­creases state law­mak­ers’ pay through a ‘con­tin­u­ing ap­pro­pri­a­tion,’ ” Carl­son wrote in an email. “This means that leg­is­la­tors who want to fore­close a pay in­crease must pass a bill specif­i­cally to do so.”

Re­gard­less, Demo­cratic Comptrolle­r Su­sana Men­doza, the of­fi­cial in charge of cut­ting the state’s checks, prom­ises there will be no raises this fis­cal year. She even re­leased a video to un­der­score that mes­sage.

Ex­perts say the decades of po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship law­mak­ers have used to avoid vot­ing for their own pay raises may be fi­nally com­ing to a head.

Charles N. Wheeler III, who has fol­lowed the Gen­eral Assem­bly for decades as both a jour­nal­ist and pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois Spring­field, said there is one ob­vi­ous fix — go back to the po­lit­i­cally in­con­ve­nient prac­tice of forc­ing law­mak­ers to vote on pay in­creases.

One Repub­li­can sen­a­tor pro­posed leg­is­la­tion in Fe­bru­ary to do just that, but the bill died in com­mit­tee with­out ever com­ing up for a vote. Un­der that leg­is­la­tion, the fix wouldn’t take ef­fect un­til 2023, when law­mak­ers will all be­gin new terms.

As for the ad’s claim, Wheeler called it “a con­ve­nient mis­state­ment of the facts.”

Our rul­ing

Illi­nois Ris­ing Ac­tion’s ad says “while vot­ers were dis­tracted, Pritzker gave huge pay raises to his politi­cian bud­dies.”

The group was ref­er­enc­ing the an­nual cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments leg­is­la­tors are pro­vided with au­to­mat­i­cally un­der state law. For most of the past decade, leg­is­la­tors have passed bills re­ject­ing those raises.

Be­cause of a re­cent le­gal de­ci­sion, law­mak­ers used a dif­fer­ent ma­neu­ver to freeze pay this year in the bud­get

Pritzker signed.

Law­mak­ers have got­ten no pay raise this year, and the gov­er­nor made no moves de­signed to give them one.

We rate this claim False.

The Bet­ter Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion runs Poli­ti­Fact Illi­nois, the lo­cal arm of the na­tion­ally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning fact-check­ing en­ter­prise that rates the truth­ful­ness of state­ments made by gov­ern­men­tal lead­ers and politi­cians. BGA’s fact-check­ing ser­vice has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and on­line. You can find all of the Poli­ti­Fact Illi­nois sto­ries we’ve re­ported to­gether at https://chicago. sun­times.com/sec­tion/poli­ti­fact/.


Gov. J.B. Pritzker

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