State Rep. Charlie Meier said he caused a stir with a bill that would prevent Illinois lawmakers from collecting paychecks until the state catches up on its $9 billion backlog of unpaid bills.
Legislation filed by Meier, R-Okawville, would prohibit General Assembly members from collecting a salary, as well as reimbursement for travel and other expenses, "until the state has paid in full all vendor accounts that are past due."
Meier said the legislation is catching the attention of voters, the media and his fellow legislators.
"It's causing a commotion," Meier said.
"Where it's going from here, I'm not sure, but we can't keep doing the things we've done, and this bill is designed to get things moving along," he added.
The state owes an estimated $9 billion to vendors -- the individuals, businesses, organizations and agencies that provide a wide array of services and products for the state. Vendors sometimes have to wait up to a year to receive payment from the state.
"It's not right that we're forcing people doing business with the state, including all of our doctors and medical providers, to wait for extremely long periods of time to be paid, when elected officials are getting their paychecks every two weeks like clockwork. Bad financial decisions by politicians are keeping these folks from being paid on time and it's those same bad financial decisions that should keep politicians from getting paid on time as well," Meier said.
Meier said one fellow legislator approached him and said: "You can't really introduce that. My wife is going to kill me. We need that income to live on."
But Meier said the same legislator later told him his wife heard about the bill, "and she absolutely loves it."
"It's time that we do something," Meier said. "It's not going to be pleasant or easy on anybody, but it's time."
Along with General Assembly members, the legislation would apply to the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer.
Meier filed the bill Jan. 18. So far, no one has signed on as a co-sponsor.
Christopher Mooney, a professor of political science at University of Illinois at Springfield, said he doubts the bill could pass.
"There is no chance in the world of this passing, so you have to wonder why he bothers wasting a piece of paper and his staff's time," Mooney told Illinois News Network, a news service of the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "I don't know about Rep. Meier in particular, but it is very common for legislators to introduce bills that sound good to the constituency even if they aren't likely to pass."
Meier agreed the bill's chances of passing could be slight.
"But who wants to be the first person to say it shouldn't pass?" he said. "Who wants to be the first person to say it shouldn't go forward? Do you want that on your record?"
Illinois legislators receive a base salary of about $68,000 per year, along with a per diem of $132 per day when they're in session. Legislators also earn about $10,000 extra per year for serving as chairman or minority-party spokesman of a committee. The average total salary last year for an Illinois state senator was about $77,500.
In Congress, House Republicans have pushed a "no budget, no pay" proposal that would withhold pay from any member of the House or Senate whose chamber doesn't pass a budget this year. The goal is to try to force the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass a budget, which it has not done since 2009.