State Rep. Jaime Andrade planned to be a full-time lawmaker when he was appointed to his seat in 2013, but legislating has not exactly provided a reliable paycheck.
Andrade and his fellow members of the General Assembly have gone without their monthly salaries in seven of the past eight months, according to Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who last week announced she would release about $8.3 million in back pay after a Cook County judge ruled that lawmakers can be paid even if they haven’t passed a budget in two years and counting.
Mendoza’s Republican predecessor, Leslie Munger, last summer started putting legislator pay in with the state’s multibillion-dollar stack of unpaid bills, meaning their checks would go out only when the state had money left over after paying other vendors. Andrade, who quit his job as a Chicago City Council aide when he was sworn in as state representative, got his paycheck for July just this month.
His solution to that cash crunch?
“I started driving Uber in June,” Andrade said.
When Andrade wasn’t in Springfield attending to legislative duties, he would drive for the ride-hailing service in Chicago — about 50 hours a week, he said.
He also enrolled in graduate courses at DePaul University (he’s pursuing a master’s degree in accounting) and took out student loans to help cover his living expenses. And he borrowed from his campaign fund to pay for hotels while in the capital, which is allowed under state law.
“I know other (legislators), they borrowed a lot of money from their campaigns to make personal expenses, and I’m not comfortable with that,” Andrade said.
Lawmakers who had accounts in a state employee credit union prior to 2016 could get advances on their state paychecks equal to about half the monthly amount, Andrade said.
Four Democratic lawmakers filed a lawsuit late last year, before Mendoza was sworn in, trying to get their back pay. Cook County Judge Rodolfo Garcia on Thursday found in their favor; the lawmakers’ challenge relied on a state law passed after Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka withheld lawmakers’ checks in a bid to pressure the Legislature into passing pension reforms.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, who appointed Munger comptroller after Topinka died, blasted Mendoza’s decision to release lawmakers’ back pay immediately after the ruling. Mendoza — whose pay also was being delayed — has said she would appeal the ruling, but did not request that the court put a hold on cutting paychecks, Rauner complained.
“Lawmakers just made a big pot of money while they weren’t doing their jobs — while they weren’t passing a balanced budget,” Rauner said Friday. “This just shows how rigged our system is. Our taxpayers in Illinois are being abused, and our most vulnerable residents are being hurt.”
Rauner and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have been at loggerheads over a budget for more than two years, as Rauner has insisted lawmakers adopt portions of his “turnaround agenda” and spending cuts. Without a budget, state spending has continued, driven largely by stop-gap measures and court orders.
Many state vendors have seen checks just as infrequently as lawmakers, but Andrade insists the move did little to drive his colleagues to cooperate with Rauner.
“It was actually the opposite,” Andrade said. “It was just a political ploy . . . the public loved it, that the (legislators) didn’t get paid. If you would poll the regular residents I’m sure they’d say, ‘They’re all rich; they’re all lawyers. Don’t pay ’em.’
“They’re people. We’re getting paid. It’s still a sad day because nothing gets solved. Now people are more upset that the legislators got paid.”