A former lawmaker who voted at least once to cut his own pay while in office and later sued to get that money back can proceed with his case, a Cook County judge ruled.
Illinois’ comptroller said it’s an example of why taxpayers don’t trust politicians.
Former state Sens. Michael Noland of Elgin and James Clayborne of East St. Louis, both Democrats, filed an amended complaint in 2018 seeking acts passed by previous legislators that froze lawmaker pay and required furloughs and compensation forfeiture in certain years during their terms to be declared unconstitutional.
“In a complex and unfortunate ruling this week, a judge said former Senator Mike Noland can proceed with his disgraceful and selfish attempt to vacuum up taxpayer money he voted repeatedly not to accept,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza said late Wednesday in a statement. “Noland’s case perfectly illustrates why voters don't trust politicians.”
Noland had originally filed the case in 2017, but Mendoza, as the defendant, successfully argued Noland didn’t have standing as a standing state Senator. Noland as an individual then got Clayborne in his Senate capacity to join as a plaintiff in 2018.
Noland was a member of the Senate from 2007 to 2017. Clayborne was a member of the Senate from 1995 to January 2019.
The comptroller argued Clayborne lacked standing because his term was up and he didn’t seek re-election. Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama sided with Mendoza on that count in a ruling Tuesday. But Valderrama sided with Noland, as an individual, to move toward compelling the comptroller to pay back what the judge said was unconstitutionally withheld.
Valderrama laid out a history of the case in his ruling. In 1990, the 86th General Assembly of the state of Illinois passed Senate Joint Resolution 192 that provided cost of living adjustments for lawmakers.
Back in 2009 lawmakers eliminated the cost-of-living adjustment for that fiscal year and also required members to forfeit twelve days of compensation. Lawmakers every year between 2010 and 2016 eliminated their cost of living allocation.
Despite voting for the measures, Noland claimed the midterm changes in pay violated the state's constitution and sought to be paid the money. Valderrama sided with Noland that the legislation was unconstitutional.
“I strongly oppose Noland's shameless money-grab and will fight it, either through an appeal, or in this court as the remaining counts proceed,” Mendoza said. “We will work with Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office to review this week’s ruling and our legal options.”
“[Noland’s] legislative pension, combined with his new judicial salary and pension, should more than suffice,” Mendoza said. “This is another sad week for Illinois taxpayers.”
The next hearing is Aug. 7 in Cook County.
For the 101st General Assembly, lawmakers COLAs are in effect after the legislature failed to pass a resolution freezing such pay before they left session last month. They’ll get $1,600 more because of the inaction of approving a COLA freeze.