STERLING – State Rep. Mike Smiddy was in town Friday to make a donation and a political statement.
The 71st District Democrat toured the YWCA of the Sauk Valley to get an update on the local nonprofit’s programs and finished his visit by writing a personal check to the agency.
State legislators will receive, on average, an extra $3,000 in salary during the fiscal year that began July 1. It’s not exactly a pay increase, but money they will recoup from a furlough program that the state discontinued.
As part of the last budget bill, lawmakers voted to stop taking the 12 unpaid furlough days they had been taking each year since 2009. The furloughs amounted to a 5 percent pay cut for most lawmakers. Smiddy made $64,796 in the past fiscal year.
He was among a few legislators who publicly pledged to give that part of the salary to local charities. He will return to Springfield for the veto session in November.
“Back in May, we had voted on a budget that included holding pay flat from last year,” Smiddy said. “We later found out that there could be legal problems with the furloughs, and they were stopped.”
Smiddy said he couldn’t, in good conscience, accept the extra money.
“I didn’t think it was right when the state is still struggling financially,” he said, “so I made a commitment to give back this year’s raise.”
After taking the tour with Executive Director Carol Fitzgerald and other staff, Smiddy noted many changes had been made since his last visit.
“I want to make sure changes keep happening for the better,” Smiddy said, “and a lot of that is about funding.”
One of the more obvious changes at the YW is the transformation of the preschool area. The program was ended after a 50-year run in the Sauk Valley. The silver lining was that the extra space has allowed for the expansion of other programs.
Moving into that space will be GirlSpace, an empowerment program for middle school girls; Career Services, which offers such help as a clothing boutique and résumé assistance for women seeking work; the Immigrant Services program that is now working with the Illinois Migrant Council on worker rights education; and Tech Gyrls, an afterschool program that focuses on developing science, math and technology skills with fourth- and fifth-grade girls.
“The preschool is now office space, and we hope to have everything moved in by the end of August,” said Rebecca Muñoz-Ripley, director of marketing and community services.
Smiddy also learned that the YW saw 900 domestic violence and sexual assault clients last year, and provided education in those areas to 29,000 residents of Whiteside and Lee counties.
“Many people don’t realize how prevalent domestic violence is in rural communities, especially with the downturn in the economy,” Smiddy said.
The lawmaker from Hillsdale will give $200 to a different charity in his district each month. Next month’s recipient will be a day care project in Tampico.