SPRINGFIELD -- The debate in the General Assembly over pay raises for lawmakers got personal Thursday, with a Senate Democrat chastising another for her wealth and blaming state representatives for using the Senate to get their money.
A state panel that sets officials' pay recently recommended cost-of-living adjustments as well as salary increases of 1 percent for lawmakers and 1.5 percent for judges and executive officers like the governor. The Illinois House voted Wednesday to reject the raises, but the Senate must approve the exact same rejection proposal or the raises are automatic.
State Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, said the Illinois House votes to reject the raises all the while expecting the Senate to block rejection. Everyone ends up with more money, but only the Senate ends up with a political black eye.
"They want to use the Senate and pimp us, and they keep taking the money," Hendon said of the House.
As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Hendon controls whether the plan to reject the raises ever sees the light of day in the Senate. Hendon said the plan needs to be changed before it's voted on.
He wants the proposal to say anyone voting against the raises won't get them, even if they are ultimately approved.
With the raises, lawmakers would be making $73,000 to $100,000 a year by next summer. Gov. Rod Blagojevich would see his pay climb by more than $20,000 to about $192,000 a year.
Hendon also took issue with state Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat who was leading the push to reject the raises.
"People should not miss out on the fact that she's a millionaire. She don't need it. Have you seen her house? Mind-boggling," Hendon said. "So it just blows my mind how the filthy rich are always the ones saying, we don't need the raise. No, she don't."
Before talking to reporters, Hendon had gone over to Garrett on the Senate floor and suggested she should sign over her expense check to him.
"If she signed her name, I would have took it. She doesn't need it," Hendon said, calling Garrett the "esteemed senator from Richville."
Told of Hendon's comments, Garrett said the issue should not be personal.
"He's making this personal, and that's unfortunate. We're not here to draw distinctions between wealthy legislators and non-wealthy legislators. We're here to make sure that what we do here in Springfield is above board and that the taxpayers are made aware of how we vote on crucial issues such as this," she said.
In the middle of Garrett talking to reporters, Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Chicago Democrat who supports the raises, walked past and loudly quipped that he needed to get some food stamps.
Garrett had this to say in response.
"Let me just say that some of the legislators have missed the point if they think that they need the raise because they're not making $150,000 a year," Garrett said. "We are here as public servants. We're not here to assume that we should be entitled to be receiving major increases every year when the rest of the state and other state employees are suffering."