Illinois lawmakers work long and hard so they deserve a pay raise, even if they don't want the public to know about it.
That's how Gov. J.B. Pritzker must feel, anyway. He said as much on Tuesday and then committed to signing a bill that includes a $1,600-a-year pay hike for elected state representatives and senators.
Yes, those elected state representatives and senators – the same ones who piled more tax hikes onto the backs of Illinois' hard-working middle-class, as if they weren't already paying too much.
For the past decade, lawmakers have included language in the budget that freezes automatic cost-of-living adjustments for themselves. Without telling anyone, House leaders under Speaker Michael Madigan removed that language during the closing hours of session, surprising just about everyone.
The salaries of part-time, rank-and-file lawmakers will now increase to nearly $69,500. For perspective, that is among the highest in the country. And that doesn't include $100-a-day per diems and other perks they give themselves.
“They’re working night and day, Republicans and Democrats, I credit them all,” Pritzker said when asked about the secretive, last-minute pay hike. “Many of them are taking on much more than people expect. They’re also away from their families for days, sometimes a week at a time.”
Instead of a pay raise though, maybe lawmakers should just work less. The less time they spend in Springfield, the less damage they can do.
Consider the results of their "hard work."
In the closing days of session, the legislature doubled the state gas tax, from 19 cents to 38 cents a gallon, to pay for infrastructure projects. A motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year and whose vehicle averages 20 miles a gallon will be paying about an additional $114 in gas taxes to the state.
Drivers in Chicago and the collar counties might be paying even more because lawmakers also gave them the authority to impose or increase their own local gas taxes:
• Chicago can increase its gas tax by 3 cents a gallon.
• Lake and Will counties can impose a new gas tax of up to 8 cents a gallon.
• DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties can double their gas taxes from 4 cents to 8 cents.
When local governments make their decisions, residents of those respective locales can pull out their calculators and determine how much less they'll have in their wallets.
Lawmakers also hiked the annual vehicle registration fees by $50, from $98 to $148. So the cost to own and drive a car in Illinois just increased by at least $164 a year for the average motorist, possibly more in Chicago and the suburbs.
The state's cigarette tax will increase by $1 a pack, from $1.98 to $2.98. That's a $365 annual tax increase for pack-a-day smokers.
Lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment that will ask voters to change the state's constitution to allow for a progressive income tax that would impose higher taxes on higher wage earners. Although Pritzker has said 97 percent of taxpayers will see a slight decrease under his plan, the rates can be changed – i.e., increased – by the General Assembly at any time.
There are also new taxes on sports betting, legal recreational marijuana and more.
And then there are the hidden new costs on taxpayers, the ones we won't be able to quantify for awhile.
Lawmakers mandated a minimum $40,000-a-year salary for teachers, which certainly will result in property tax increases in many downstate communities where the median per-capita income is less than $40,000.
They also repealed a measure intended to curb pension spiking by local school districts. Local schools and public universities once again can give teachers end-of-career pay bumps of up to 6 percent each year over their last four years of employment – without having to pay for the increased pension costs that come with those raises. The state's pension systems are only underfunded by $135 billion, so why not?
Earlier this session, the legislature imposed a $15 minimum wage on job creators by 2025. To pay for the increased costs, businesses have said they will have to lay off workers and charge consumers more for their products.
And those are just the highlights of this "successful" General Assembly.
Yes, lawmakers did get quite a bit done, but at a huge cost to taxpayers.
Rather than raises, let's stop paying legislators altogether.
Maybe they'll stop showing up at all.