The clock is ticking at last on paycheck shenanigans in Springfield

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The clock is ticking at last on paycheck shenanigans in Springfield

Chicago Tribune | Eric Zorn —

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State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said the needle on her shenanigans detector jumped dramatically shortly after the resignation of state Sen. Martin Sandoval in late November 2019.

The Southwest Side senator, who died a little more than a year later of COVID-19, was at the time caught up in a corruption scandal rooted in allegations that he abused his power when he was chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He later pleaded guilty to bribery and tax charges.

But on his way out the door, Sandoval pulled one last sleazy move: He made his resignation effective Jan. 1, 2020.

“Someone on my staff pointed out to me that because of the way state law is written, that meant we’d have to pay his monthly salary (about $5,800) for all of December and all of January,” Mendoza said. “I said, ‘That’s insane,’ and decided we had to do something about it.”

It turned out that Springfield Republican Rep. Mike Murphy was already on the case, having introduced a bill earlier in 2019 that said lawmakers should be paid only for the days when they’re serving in office. You know, like how most employees are paid. No exploiting the calendar to secure exit bonuses. But Murphy’s bill had attracted only Republican co-sponsors and been consigned to legislative purgatory.

Mendoza was also inflamed by a similar stunt pulled by Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago. He was hit with a 13-count federal corruption indictment on Oct. 28, 2019, and submitted a letter of resignation on Oct. 31 but didn’t make that resignation effective until the next day, Nov. 1. Mendoza whipped up enthusiasm among Democrats for another go at changing the rule.

Proposals in both chambers attracted bipartisan support when introduced in early 2020 but, like a lot of legislation during the pandemic-shortened session, they never went anywhere.

Then came the resignation of veteran House Speaker Michael Madigan on Feb. 18 as scandal swirled around him.

Madigan’s successor, Edward Kodatt, served three days before resigning over unspecified “alleged questionable conduct,” and Kodatt’s successor, Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, didn’t begin serving until Feb. 25.

News stories pointed out that all three were eligible to be paid for the entire month, and the rest of us felt our shenanigans detectors quiver.

Kodatt declined the check and Guerrero-Cuellar released a statement saying she planned to spend her February salary “to host a food dispensary event….at a later date.”

Current iterations of the proposal (Senate Bill 484 and House Bill 3104) are co-sponsored by an almost equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Mendoza said the bills have been folded into the omnibus ethics reform packages that appear to have momentum in Springfield.

Fixing the General Assembly Compensation Act to prevent outgoing and incoming lawmakers from cashing checks they haven’t earned will save about $5,800 here and there, which is essentially nothing when you’re talking about the massive state budget.

“It’s not going to decrease our deficit,” said Mendoza, “but it can increase trust in government. These little things,” she said, referring to tricks and schemes and loopholes, “are part of the reason everyone hates us.”

Which is why this is an idea everyone should love.

Listen to this article: Zorn, Eric (2021, April 23). Column: The clock is ticking at last on paycheck shenanigans in Springfield. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from

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