More Committees Mean More Money for Lawmakers

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

More Committees Mean More Money for Lawmakers


Byline: Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD u The number of legislative committees has ballooned at the state Capitol over the past decade, giving virtually every lawmaker a snazzy title and extra money, even if the workload is sometimes quite light.

At least two Illinois House committees, out of 58 total, handled no legislation at all over a two-year period. Sixteen other House panels acted on fewer than 10 bills. Meanwhile, all the SenateAEs 25 committees in 2007 and 2008 handled larger loads of legislation, but sometimes just barely. Four took action on fewer than 20 bills.

The amount of committees has doubled in 13 years and itAEs been a spendy expansion too u the cost to taxpayers has climbed by hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, regardless of how much, or little, the committee does, the Democratic chairman and top Republican on each panel get an extra $10,327 in annual salary.

"Certainly itAEs not going to solve our budget problem, but itAEs a good example of how government mushrooms and expands in small amounts," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican.

Democratic leaders say theyAEve added so many new committees because they think everyone with a certain level of experience should have the opportunity to chair one.

That policy also gives lawmakers a title that looks good come Election Day, along with the extra cash. And experts say it helps strengthen the leadersAE control of the Legislature by ensuring no particular committee chair gains significant power.

"If everybodyAEs a committee chair, then itAEs not that special," said Kent Redfield, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

The committees focuses range from biotechnology to pension funds and public health. The panels review legislation and decide which bills reach the floor for a vote by the entire House or Senate. They also can study issues and hold hearings to produce policy recommendations. The lineup of committees is decided every two years when the new General Assembly is sworn in.

Legislative leaders decide who will serve on each committee. That gives them the opportunity to reward or punish rank-and-file lawmakers with committee assignments.

This year, two veteran House Democrats who were sympathetic toward former Gov. Rod Blagojevich u Jay Hoffman of Collinsville and Ken Dunkin of Chicago u have not been given any committee to chair by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who often clashed with Blagojevich.

The two normally oversee committees for transportation and tourism, but those positions are vacant for now. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown would say only that chairmanships for those committees are still under review.

"It would appear that was done to send a message to the people that would normally be the chairs," said Rick Winkel, a former Republican state senator.

Since 1996, the number of House committees grew from 29 to 58. The Senate had 17 committees in 2002 but now has 30, with five new ones added this year alone. The expansion coincides with periods in which Democrats controlled the chambers.

The increase creates 84 additional paid positions with a possible total cost of $867,000 annually. The actual cost is lower, however, because some lawmakers chair more than one committee or get a stipend for serving in party leadership. …

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