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Munger: State leaders’ pay will be delayed by budget stalemate

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger

Illinois legislators and elected statewide officials will have to wait in line with everyone else to get paid by the state, Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced Sunday. | Sun-Times file photo

Illinois legislators and elected statewide officials will have to wait in line with everyone else to get paid by the state, Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced Sunday.

The state is paying its bills about two months late, so Illinois’ 177 legislators, as well as the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer can expect to wait that long to get paid.

Their combined compensation totals about $1.3 million a month, Munger said during a news conference held in the otherwise-vacant Thompson Center in the Loop.

Munger said she did not consult with Gov. Bruce Rauner or any other state Republican leaders about the maneuver.

“This is a decision I made on my own as the comptroller, and we informed the governor’s staff just before we came in here,” she said.

While Munger didn’t consult with Rauner, her move will apparently have little personal impact on the governor, a multimillionaire who cut his gubernatorial salary to $1.

“I do not relish taking this action,” Munger said, rattling off a dour list that paints the state’s balance sheet in red ink as Illinois nears its 11th month without a budget.

Rauner, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment. Senate President John Cullerton also declined to comment.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin said in an emailed statement: “The comptroller’s action underscores yet again the need for a solution to our budget impasse.”

Steve Brown, House Speaker Mike Madigan’s spokesman, said: “Its incredible it took her 16 months to figure out that Rauner is dismantling the social services network, that’s pretty stunning. He’s been doing it the whole time.”

Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno did not return messages.

The failure to pass a budget is the result of a standoff between Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly. Democrats want Rauner to sign off on a tax increase but Rauner first wants to see what he calls “structural reforms” such as changes in collective bargaining.

In 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn ordered a pay freeze for lawmakers in a bid to win passage of stalled pension-reform legislation. A Cook County judge ruled the move unconstitutional, citing a section of the Illinois Constitution that says lawmakers’ salaries cannot be changed during the term in which they were elected.

Munger, a Republican from northwest suburban Lincolnshire, will run against Democrat Susana Mendoza, the city clerk of Chicago, in a special election in November.

Munger was appointed comptroller by Rauner after the 2014 death of Judy Baar Topinka.

Mendoza lashed out Sunday at Munger, calling the move “10 months late and many dollars short.” She asked when Munger would “stand up to Rauner and demand an end to his extreme agenda and pass a budget?”

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Munger said about 10 percent of organizations that have received state funding in the past cannot be paid without a budget. The list includes higher education as well as nonprofits that provide a range of services.

“They’ve been forced to slash programs and staff and, in many cases, close down all together,” she said. “Yet against this backdrop, the state is paying members of the General Assembly and our constitutional officers, including me, on time every month, essentially giving us preferential treatment in the line of bills waiting for payment.”

“Combined, those payments total $1.3 million each month or $15.6 million annually. Now some might say that that’s not very much relative to the state’s staggering financial problems, but it all adds up,” she said, noting that $1.3 million could be a lifeline for a nonprofit.

“And that is why, effective immediately, I have directed my staff to treat payments for all elected officials just like every other state payment,” she said. “As our cash flow continues to deteriorate, it is only fair that we end the prioritization of pay for elected leaders.”

The state is on track to spend $1.2 billion more than last year while bringing in $5 billion less in revenue, she said.

“That means our state — already on the edge of a fiscal cliff — is on pace to dig another $6.2 billion in debt this year,” Munger said.

The state’s current backlog of unpaid bills is nearly $8 billion, she said.

“We are all in this together and we will all wait in line together,” she said. “And, frankly, if this action helps bring all sides together to focus on the most urgent and important task at hand — that of passing a balanced budget so we can end this unnecessary and devastating hardship on our state — then that will be an added benefit.”

Members of the General Assembly earn a base salary of $67,836. Many have other careers as well. But for House Rep. Jaime Andrade, who lives on the Northwest Side, his state income is it.

“For me it will be a difficult situation, but it’s only fair,” Andrade said. “We’ll just have to adjust. I have a lot of people who work for social services in my district who have lost their jobs or are going to lose their jobs.”

Contributing: AP