Fact check: GOP mailers claim legislator pay raise in budget


Editor’s note: This is the first of an occasional series of stories fact checking political communications to constituents or voters.

Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, and Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, have sent legislative mailings to constituents complaining that Democratic lawmakers passed a budget that includes a pay raise for legislators.

What they said:

McClure’s mailing is actually a survey asking constituents to weigh in on variety of issues. This is one of the questions: "At the end of May, for the second year in a row, Illinois Democrats passed a partisan budget that gives pay raises to state legislators. Do you believe the Democrat majority should have taken action to remove language allowing for a cost-of-living increase for state lawmakers before they passed a budget implementation bill?" The options are "yes" or "no" or "undecided/no opinion."

Murphy’s mailing says that, "Despite false claims to the contrary, my Democratic colleagues did vote to give themselves a raise in this year’s unbalanced state budget. According to Illinois law, state legislators receive a pay raise each year unless we vote to reject the annual cost of living adjustments (COLA)." Murphy says the Democratic majority refused to allow a vote on his bill to reject pay raises. They also refused to put any other language refusing the raise in any budget bills, he said. "While House and Senate Democrats cited an ‘agreement’ they had made with the Comptroller to reject the pay raise, the automatic pay raise is a continuing appropriation and the Comptroller does not have the legal authority to stop continuing appropriations."

What’s not said:

Neither mailing mentions the basis for the Democrats’ claim there will be no pay raise. Namely, that money wasn’t included in the budget to pay them. For a number of years, lawmakers added specific language in budget bills saying they were rejecting COLAs. Lawmakers didn’t do that this year, but they also didn’t include an appropriation in the budget to cover their COLAs. At this point, two months into the state’s new fiscal year, no lawmaker has received a pay increase resulting from the budget approved in May.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza produced a video in May to rebut the notion that lawmakers are getting a raise. At one point, she holds up a card with zero printed on it and says, "Here’s how much money the General Assembly appropriated for legislator raises, or cost-of-living adjustments, known as COLAs, in this year’s budget. Zero."

"So when you hear false rumors or assumptions that Comptroller Mendoza will have to pay legislators more this year, you tell them you heard it straight from the person whose job it is to cut the checks in Illinois," Mendoza says in conclusion. "Legislator raises this year will be zero."

Both Murphy and McClure said nothing precludes a lawsuit from being filed contending that the COLAs cannot be withheld because it would be an unconstitutional reduction in legislators’ salaries. If it were successful, they argue, Mendoza would be forced to pay the COLAs even without an appropriation.

Two former Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin and Sen. James Clayborne of Belleville sued to get the COLAs they would have received from 2009 through 2018 had the legislature not voted to reject them. The case is still being litigated.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who helped craft this year’s budget, said the pending lawsuit is one reason budget negotiators opted to not appropriate money for raises rather than include language rejecting them. "We chose to reject the pay raise a different way," he said.

"No lawmaker got a raise as can be proven by the checks that have been mailed out," Manar said. "Any what-aboutism from any Republican is just more nonsense. Unfortunately, the taxpayers are paying for them to lie about it now. Those mailers are paid for by taxpayers."

The bottom line

Both mailers make a flat assertion that the budget does provide a pay raise for lawmakers. However, no lawmaker is being paid more money as a result of the budget that was passed in May. A lawsuit could potentially change that, but at this point no lawsuit has been filed based on the May budget, there is no guarantee that a lawsuit will be filed and no court has ruled on a lawsuit that has yet to be filed. The pay raise claims are false.

Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.


via The State Journal-Register

September 1, 2020 at 10:27AM

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