Former Illinois House of Representatives member Michael Fortner alleges in a proposed class action that his salary was unconstitutionally manipulated mid-term between 2009 and 2018.
The 20-page lawsuit, filed against Illinois Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza in her official capacity, claims the state’s General Assembly passed 10 different Public Acts between 2009 and 2018 that eliminated members’ cost-of-living adjustments and five Public Acts between 2009 and 2013 that imposed mandatory unpaid furlough days. According to the lawsuit out of Cook County Circuit Court, the Public Acts had the effect of changing General Assembly members’ salaries during the term for which they were elected, which the plaintiff argues is prohibited by the Illinois Constitution.
“The Illinois Constitution of 1970 expressly – and unequivocally – prohibits any ‘changes’ to the salaries of legislators during their terms of office,” the complaint attests.
Per the lawsuit, the Illinois Constitution specifies that “changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.” Despite this constitutional mandate, however, the Illinois General Assembly in 2009 enacted Public Act 96-800, which eliminated an annual cost-of-living salary adjustment to which public officials were entitled pursuant to a Senate Joint Resolution adopted in 1990, the case relays.
Instead of receiving the salary adjustment on July 1, the plaintiff and other members of the state’s General Assembly were therefore forced to forgo the payment for the fiscal year running from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 pursuant to Public Act 96-800, according to the suit. The plaintiff says the Public Act unconstitutionally made a change in his salary that “took effect immediately and entirely within his two-year term of office running from January 2009 to January 2011.”
According to the suit, the Illinois General Assembly enacted in every year from 2010 to 2019 similar Public Acts that eliminated the cost-of-living adjustments for a one-year period for each successive fiscal year. The case contends that the Public Acts amounted to changes in salary that were unlawfully made during the term of office for which General Assembly members were elected. As such, each of the statutes is void, and assembly members are entitled to receive their full cost-of-living salary adjustments for the period of time they served while the statutes were in effect, the lawsuit charges.
The case goes on to allege that the Illinois General Assembly enacted in 2009 Public Act 96-45, which required each General Assembly member to forfeit 12 days of compensation for fiscal year 2010. Although the statute noted that “forfeiture required by this Section is not considered a change in salary,” the lawsuit argues that the requirement to “give up multiple days of compensation” did in fact amount to a change in salary for the years in which the provision was in place.
According to the complaint, the General Assembly passed every year from 2009 to 2013 a Public Act mandating either six or 12 furlough days for assembly members for a one-year period for each successive fiscal year. The plaintiff argues that because the changes were enacted and took effect mid-term, he and other assembly members are entitled to receive the compensation they were required to forfeit as a result of the statutes.
The case adds that in a prior lawsuit filed by two former members of the Illinois General Assembly, the trial court found that the statutes enacted between 2009 and 2017 that are challenged in this lawsuit are unconstitutional. The trial court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs and ordered Comptroller Mendoza to issue warrants for payments to the two individuals, the complaint says.
The lawsuit looks to represent all former or current members of the Illinois General Assembly who served any part of a term between July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2019 and had cost-of-living payments withheld during that time.
Also proposed in the suit is a class covering current or former General Assembly members who served any part of a term between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2014 and were required to take furlough days for which they were not paid.
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