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National Editorial & Columnists

EDITORIALS ELSEWHERE: Lawmaker raises an issue of transparency

Public officials should make sure it’s done the right way

Everyone deserves a raise for the work they do. Yes, even our state legislators.

It’s technically a part-time job, although a base salary of $67,836 is arguably a decent salary by most people’s standards for full-time employment. Many legislators get even more than that when you add on the stipend they receive for various leadership roles. And then each lawmaker is entitled to a $111 per diem for every session day, plus mileage reimbursements (although some, like Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, don’t accept the per diem).

That’s not to say it isn’t earned. Lawmakers, the good ones, work hard. They are heavily involved in their districts and they listen to constituents. They attend committee meetings, read thousands of pages of bills and studies, and vote in what they believe to be the best interests of those they represent. Sometimes, valid threats to their safety are made by those who disagree with them.

The General Assembly hasn’t received a raise since 2008. That is poised to change July 1, when a 2.4 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment is set to go into effect. That will be about $1,600 more each year per lawmaker. Few of us would be happy to go 11 years without a raise, so we don’t object to that.

It’s the way it was done that bothers us. Cost-of-living increases for legislators are automatic – unless a law is passed to block it. For the past decade, the General Assembly has done that as the state grappled with numerous financial issues. But this year, the House slipped the raise into the budget legislation, which was introduced about noon Friday and voted on throughout the weekend by the two chambers.

We agree with Sen. Dale Righter, the Mattoon Republican who pointed out the missing cost-of-living increase freeze to Democrats in his chamber. “If we think we deserve one, then stand up and say it,” he said. “Don’t try to slip it through in the last hours of session because that’s what people resent.”

He’s right. If Republicans hadn’t pointed it out – and all 19 in the Senate reportedly voted against the budget because of the pay raise – who knows when the public would have been made aware of the raise? It’s not like anyone had a lot of time to parse the 1,581-page budget bill that was introduced on the last scheduled day of the legislative session.

Senate Democrats tried to block the cost-of-living increase through other legislation, but the House didn’t take action on it. On Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he planned to sign the nearly $40 billion budget as is. Those raises are as good as done.

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