1 Week, 3 Reps, 1 Month Pay? Illinois Comptroller Seeks An End To ‘Exit Bonus’ Pay

Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, accompanied by State Sen. Andy Manar
In this Nov. 8, 2017 file photo, Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, accompanied by State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, speaks to reporters at the state Capitol in Springfield, Ill. John O’Connor / Associated Press
Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, accompanied by State Sen. Andy Manar
In this Nov. 8, 2017 file photo, Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, accompanied by State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, speaks to reporters at the state Capitol in Springfield, Ill. John O’Connor / Associated Press

1 Week, 3 Reps, 1 Month Pay? Illinois Comptroller Seeks An End To ‘Exit Bonus’ Pay

The debacle that was last week’s process to fill the vacancy in the Illinois House of Representatives left by the departure of long-tenured former Speaker Michael Madigan created curious financial fodder for a legislative pay practice that Comptroller Susana Mendoza has been working for more than a year to end.

A committee of Democrats led by Madigan had to do it twice. Their first choice was forced to resign on Wednesday, three days after he was sworn in, because of unspecified “questionable conduct.” The second took the oath a day later.

One week, three state representatives for the 22nd District, and a new pay period days away. Under state law, all three are entitled to a full month’s salary — $5,788.66.

With Mendoza’s nudge, allies have proposed “No Exit Bonus” legislation limiting lawmakers who enter or leave the General Assembly mid-month to pay only for the portion they worked.

“It’s common sense, right? Everyone assumed that people are being paid on a prorated basis,” Mendoza, a Democrat, told The Associated Press last week. “But in this case, wow, I don’t really know anyone who gets paid close to $6,000 for a day-and-a-half’s work as a representative.”

Edward Guerra Kodatt, the first pick, told Mendoza on Friday that he would forgo the money. Mendoza hopes to hear the same from the current state representative, Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar. Her appointment, announced midday Thursday, means she was a state representative for about 1 1/2 days in February.

Neither Guerrero-Cuellar nor Kodatt returned messages seeking comment from The Associated Press on Friday.

Kodatt was Madigan’s hand-picked successor, and on Feb. 21 became the first person to hold the post since Madigan assumed it in January 1971. But the former constituent services aide to Madigan and office-mate Chicago Alderman Marty Quinn resigned Wednesday under pressure from the pair who said they had discovered “questionable conduct.” They have not elaborated.

Although the Madigan-replacement fiasco presented an ideal for-instance to boost Mendoza’s legislation, she initially proposed it more than a year ago after signing two monthly payments to former Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Cicero Democrat who pleaded guilty in January 2020 to influence-peddling charges and was cooperating with federal prosecutors when he died in December of complications related to COVID-19.

Sandoval submitted his resignation from the Senate on Nov. 26, 2019 — making it effective on Jan. 1, 2020. In what Mendoza described as “blatant opportunism,” he was paid for all of December and January.

Just weeks earlier, on Oct. 28, then-Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat, was charged in a federal bribery scam. He has pleaded not guilty, but he resigned his House seat effective Nov. 1, so he got an extra month’s pay.

At one time, legislative pay was prorated, so to speak. The 1848 Constitution allowed lawmakers $2 per day they were in session for the first 42 days, and $1 per day after that, according to the Legislative Research Unit. It was later increased to $5 daily until a biennial, $1,000 salary took effect in 1897.

The 1976 law, intended to head off a ballot initiative by a young activist and future governor named Pat Quinn, took aim at the practice of lump-sum payments. Lawmakers could take their entire two-year salary at the start of each session. In 1941, they started receiving annual lump-sum payouts, but could still get two years’ worth upon written request.

Quinn had gathered sufficient signatures to put three ethics initiatives on the fall 1976 ballot, including one barring legislators from receiving annual pay in advance. The Supreme Court that summer invalidated the questions, but the movement had spurred the General Assembly into adopting monthly pay — with the proviso that “a member who has held office any part of a month is entitled to compensation for an entire month.”

The No Exit Bonus plan is sponsored by Elgin Democratic Sen. Cristina Castro and Rep. Katie Stuart, a Glen Carbon Democrat who has Republican support. It would not save so much money as to impact the state’s billions of dollars of debt, Mendoza acknowledged.

“It’s an issue of principle. It’s an issue of ethics …,” Mendoza said. “It’s anti-taxpayer. It’s a slap in the face of taxpayers, actually. It’s infuriating. And that’s why we’re going to end it.”