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Lawmakers paid well for lousy results

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

You certainly don’t get what you pay for in the state of Illinois.

Illinois lawmakers are the fifth-highest paid in the country, yet the state’s finances are at the bottom of almost every list.

Bond rating: last.

Pension liability: worst.

Bill backlog: disgraceful.

Illinois’ lawmakers make a base salary of $67,836 a year, but can earn much more through stipends for leadership positions or for serving on key committees. Those stipends range from $10,327 to $27,477. They also get expense money while the General Assembly is in session.

Oh, before we forget, they also get health insurance and pensions for working what is supposed to be a part-time job. They were in session 74 days in 2012. A good lawmaker, and even some of the not-so-good ones, will say that they work much more than the days they are in Springfield; they’re in their districts listening to and helping their constituents.

However, those constituents, as a whole, are not doing as well as lawmakers are. The median household income in Illinois is $56,576.

The weekly series Deadbeat Illinois, a collaborative effort by GateHouse Media newspapers, shows us how the General Assembly’s inability to fix or even control the state’s sinking finances hurts real people.

Medicaid patients in Peoria can’t get a cab ride because the state’s not paying. Agencies are at the brink of going under unless the state swoops in with a check in the nick of time. Those agencies often have to borrow money to make up for the cash shortage created by the state’s deadbeat ways.

The Comptroller’s office can put those troubled agencies at the front of the payment line, but doing so moves someone else down the list.

You don’t have to do business with the state to feel the effects of fiscal ineptitude.

Madeleine Doubek, chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois, a nonpartisan digital and social media service dedicated to educating Illinoisans on key issues, recently blogged about the number of people fleeing the state.

“Those people who leave are taking taxable income with them. Billions and billions in taxable income, which would make a big dent in the unpaid bills and pension crisis,” Doubek wrote.

So how do we lure those people and businesses back? How do we get that bond rating back to a respectable level? How do we reduce the pension liability? How do we ensure that people who do business with the state get paid in a timely manner?

We don’t have the answers, but we expect the 177 men and women that taxpayers pay well to come up with them.

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