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Former legislator with no class files class action suit that could cost taxpayers millions

Any Illinois legislator who voted against pay hikes, just to score political points, remains ethically obligated to take a pass on those lost wages now and forever.

The Illinois House, in session, in 2013.
Sun-Times Media Sun-Times Media

If there’s a dollar on the floor, some people will snatch it up whether they’ve got it coming or not.

In this category of bald opportunists we would put a former Republican state representative, Mike Fortner of West Chicago, and two former Democratic state senators, Michael Noland of Elgin and James Clayborne of Belleville.

All three are ethical hypocrites. All three voted against accepting cost-of-living pay raises when they were in the state Legislature, posing like selfless good guys during hard times for Illinois, but have since gone to court to claw back every dime of those lost wages now that they’re out of politics and don’t give a hoot what people think.

The Illinois Constitution may be on their side. We don’t know. The Illinois Supreme Court eventually will have to rule. But that’s not what should matter here. Fortner, Noland and Clayborne, as well as any other legislator between 2010 and 2018 who voted against those pay hikes — as well as for unpaid furlough days — remain ethically obligated to take a pass on those lost wages now. And forever.

Or they can give it to charity. State Comptroller Susana Mendoza says she’ll send them the proper forms to fill out.

“As a former legislator who voted against these pay raises, I will lead by example,” Mendoza said. “I will donate any back pay I get to charity and will encourage others to do the same.”

A Cook County judge, deciding in a suit brought by Noland and Clayborne, ruled in April that the two former lawmakers were entitled to back pay because it was unconstitutional for lawmakers to have rejected the regular cost-of-living adjustments. The state’s constitution, the judge ruled, prohibited any mid-term change in a legislator’s salary — up or down — for “personal or political gain.”

And now Fortner, in just the last week, has filed a class action suit arguing that all lawmakers who have served a decade should get the back pay. The cost to taxpayers could run about $14.4 million.

Talk about no class.

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