Op Ed: The Loyalty Stipend– How Illinois Can Easily Save $1 million

This spring the Illinois House of Representatives spent nearly $1 million giving stipends to 89 legislators, over half of the members, for their roles as chairperson or minority spokesperson for one of fifty house committees. Three out of the fifty committees never met - not once. And yet, the legislator received the stipend of $10,327. On average committees met only 9 times, a cost of $1,147 per meeting. The majority of the committees met 7 times or less, equal to $1475 per meeting. This stipend comes on top of regular legislator pay of $67,836 – the 5th highest in the nation for part-time work. In Illinois that work has given taxpayers unbalanced budgets for the last 13 years and the worst credit rating in the nation.

These stipends are excessive and unnecessary. Committee meetings are part of the lawmaking process. Therefore, service on a committee is a part of a lawmaker’s job. Even more significant is the fact that most important legislation, including budget bills, are pushed through at the last minute by the House Executive Committee with nary a discussion, making a mockery of the entire legislative process and fools of those who believe in it. 

Why is it that giving unionized government employees or elected officials additional duties without additional pay is treated as abuse of some sort? In the Army, positions similar to a committee chair but with actual responsibilities and real consequences, such as a company training officer or security officer, are an additional duty with no monetary remuneration. It is expected. It is part of being a leader. For almost a direct comparison, consider that police officers, per their union contracts, receive “Shooting Bonus Pay” for scores above average on a qualification test. While in the military, a soldier is motivated to improve his marksmanship because it is the difference between life and death – not only for him, but for the men in his company. 

It is difficult to see these stipends as anything other than one more Illinois patronage program. It matters not at all if the chairperson or spokesperson has any expertise in the subject matter considered by a committee. It matters not at all how long or often committees meet or what real work is accomplished. Illinois 2.0 is essentially Colonial America. The King’s Loyalists are rewarded handsomely.

Illinois has not even begun to cut expenses or consider necessary structural reforms. And yet these unnecessary stipends remain in place. When legislators are paid so well that they don't need outside employment they risk becoming isolated from the real-world economic climate. It is time for legislators to share the burden. The state needs to make budget cuts, and $1 million is a great start.