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Special session price tag — $50,000 a day

Editors note:
Mark Twain said it best, ‘… when the legislature’s in session, your life, liberty and property aren’t safe.’ Bingo. When is Gov. Quinn going to call a special session to cut spending, sell the state airplanes, reverse auction bloated contracts, and institute more deep auditing? Eighteen months ago, Gov. Quinn signed a $31 billion capital bill. Now, we need an additional $400 million to keep our summer construction projects running? The fat cat insiders are crushing Illinois taxpayers.

June 14, 2011
By Benjamin Yount Illinois Statehouse News
Click Here to read the original Illinois Statehouse News article.

SPRINGFIELD — With nearly $50,000, a taxpayer could cover nearly two years of tuition, room and board, and fees for one student at the University of Illinois.

Or he could buy a new 2011 Cadillac CTS sedan with heated leather seats, GPS and MP3, a sunroof, and four cupholders.

Instead, taxpayers will shoulder nearly $50,000 a day, if Gov. Pat Quinn calls lawmakers back to the Capitol for special session.

Each of Illinois’ 177 legislators would receive $111 per diem plus 39-cents per mile. For the 118 members of the state House, the total is $32,414; for the state Senate’s 59 members, the cost would be $14,500. The grand total — for just lawmakers — is $46,914 each day.

Brad Hahn, spokesman for Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, said these daily expenses could be used to whittle away at the 114,530 unpaid bills, dating back to Dec. 29, that sit on Topinka’s desk.

In 2007 and 2008, the last time Illinois lawmakers spent their summers in special session, the daily expense was $40,000. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich ordered lawmakers back to the Capitol for a record 26 special sessions in those two years, but few lawmakers attended, so the actual costs were less.

The nearly $50,000 daily expense facing taxpayers now could be avoided if legislative leaders call lawmakers back for regular session, said John Patterson, spokesman for state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. Lawmakers are only paid for special sessions between June and the beginning of the veto session in October. They would not be paid for regular session days.

“Our hope is we can come to an agreement so there won’t have to be a special session,” Patterson said.

Legislative leaders can call for additional regular session days, but Quinn this past week said he is looking to call a special session, so lawmakers can address questions about added spending and the statewide construction plan.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the speaker will meet with Quinn on Wednesday to discuss the need for a special session.

“The governor has a variety of options,” said Brown. “Quinn could use the lapse-period spending (extension) provided by the Legislature.”

That lapse-period spending would allow summer construction to continue and give Illinois until December to pay bills normally due in July.

Quinn has said he wants a special session so lawmakers can work out a dispute over $430 million in new spending for education and human services that has been linked to the statewide construction program.

Adam Andrzejewski, former candidate for governor and conservative advocate, said Quinn should be calling lawmakers back to cut spending even further.

“Illinois’ special sessions are costly to taxpayers on many levels,” said Andrzejewski. “The sessions cost $50,000 per day and are used to fund insiders, road contractors, and politically connected vendors. In a bankrupt state, the gravy train rolls on.”

A special session may come with a financial cost, but it also may have a bigger political payoff for the governor in the long term, said Kent Redfield, political science professor at University of Illinois-Springfield.

“If you bring everybody back to Springfield, and you actually accomplish something, then that’s worth the costs,” Redfield said. “It’s risk-rewards sort of thing for the governor.”


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