Special session perk means expense checks for lawmakers

2013-06-17T20:00:00Z Special session perk means expense checks for lawmakersKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
June 17, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD | Although the chances of resolving the state’s pension problems appear slim, Wednesday’s special session of the Illinois General Assembly could make lawmakers’ wallets and waistlines a little bigger.

As part of Gov. Pat Quinn’s call for a special session to address the massively underfunded state retirement systems, each member of the General Assembly receives a $111 check for food and lodging expenses.

The money is on top of their $67,000 base salary, any additional stipends they receive for serving in leadership roles and an additional check for their mileage.

In all, the cost of bringing the legislature back to the Capitol costs taxpayers about $40,000 per day – an amount that represents a tiny fraction of the state’s funding woes, but has nonetheless become a target of political criticism.

In 2007, for example, Senate Republicans jeeringly called former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s call for a special session on the budget a “teacher per day” folly because the daily cost of bringing members back was roughly the same amount as a school teacher’s salary.

Some lawmakers have made it a practice to donate the special session money to charity.

In 2012, for example, state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, contributed his share to Pat’s Kids, which assists abused children in southern Illinois.

“That’s probably what I’ll do again,” Forby said Monday.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, was among a handful of others who also didn’t accept their per diem checks last year. He said he’s not sure whether he’ll do it again this year because he just voted to continue taking furlough days.

“I’m just not sure. I feel like I’ve done my part for the state,” Jacobs said. “I would question why we’re even meeting

For those who do take the money, there are a number of watering holes and dining options within walking distance of the Capitol if the session breaks up early on Wednesday.

At Maldaner’s Restaurant, a venerable downtown fine-dining establishment, the specialty is Beef Wellington. It comes with a truffle sauce, mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables for a cost of $28.

At Saputo’s, lawmakers can order one of the Italian dinner favorites: ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, rigatoni or mostaccioli. Add in meat balls or sausage and a salad and dinner costs $14.95.

At Augie’s Front Burner, the politicians can plunk down $29 for a New York strip steak, accompanied by boursin potato, braised sweet and sour red cabbage and bleu cheese bacon butter.

Or, at Sebastian’s Hide-out, members could start out with a roasted beet salad that includes fennel, brown butter vinaigrette, arugula, candied walnuts and mandarin oranges. For an appetizer, they could order the tuna tartar, which includes sticky sushi rice on an Asian salad with wonton wasabi. For the main course, they could order the roasted Australian lamb rack, which comes with goat cheese potato puree and honey-glazed root vegetables. Total cost: About half of the daily expense check.

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