Former Illinois State Senator Michael Noland is pictured on March 15, 2016 in Elgin, Illinois.
A former Illinois state senator has filed a lawsuit seeking to recoup money he lost when lawmakers voted to skip annual cost-of-living pay increases.
Michael Noland, a Democrat from Elgin, contends that not getting the raises violates a provision in the Illinois Constitution that bars changes to a lawmaker’s pay during a term in office.
He filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on Thursday, a day after Illinois lawmakers once again finished a spring session without a budget plan in place, leaving schools, universities and social services providers with uncertainty about the future.
Noland served in the Senate from 2007 until earlier this year, after losing a primary bid for Congress to U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi. The lawsuit lists Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who oversees the state’s checkbook, as the defendant.
According to court documents, Noland is seeking pay for himself "and all others impacted" after lawmakers passed eight different bills between 2009 and 2016 to forgo the cost-of-living increases legislators would automatically receive unless they are voted down.
He also wants to be paid for furlough days put in place during that same time frame, saying the state Constitution "prohibits mid-term manipulation of state legislators’ salaries for personal or political gain." The filing asks that lawmakers be allowed to donate possible payments from the suit back to the state.
Noland did not return a message seeking comment. Mendoza’s office declined to weigh in, saying that she was not comptroller during the time period in question.
Lawmakers approved the popular pay cuts during the state’s ongoing financial crisis, though some have contended doing so is a political stunt designed to pander to voters.
Noland in 2012 voted in favor of at least one of the bills to cut out pay raises. That measure passed the Senate without opposition, and Noland was quoted as supporting the legislation in a statement posed on the Illinois Senate Democrats website.
"We need structural tax reform to properly fund our most important priorities — like education, health care and the ongoing need for infrastructure," Noland said at the time. "Until we do this, the least we can do is cut our own pay again. I know most working families in Illinois are not seeing raises this year, so we shouldn’t either."
Noland’s finances came up in last year’s congressional race as Krishnamoorthi’s opponents tried to position themselves as best able to relate to the middle class.
Noland, an attorney who has an MBA, pulled in about $76,000 from the state and $10,000 from his law practice in 2014, according to his financial disclosure statement. He cited "financial hardship" in 2014 when he modified his mortgage through a federal assistance program that helps homeowners reduce monthly payments and avoid foreclosure.
In an interview at the time, Noland said his family faced a number of financial obligations, including student loans and private school tuition for his daughter. The senator also said his family struggled after then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn zeroed out lawmakers’ salaries during a 2013 budget fight. Lawmakers went about two months without paychecks before a judge ruled the move unconstitutional and ordered the money paid out.
Earlier this year, a judge ruled that the comptroller’s office can’t delay lawmaker paychecks even in the midst of a historic state budget stalemate. Former Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger, a Republican, put their salaries in the long line with Illinois’ other past-due bills in an effort to make officials feel the pain of the budget stalemate.
Mendoza, a Democrat, continued the policy after defeating Munger in a November special election. Later, a handful of Democratic lawmakers asked a judge to compel the comptroller to pay their salaries ahead of other past-due bills. They said state law requires lawmakers to be paid in 12 equal monthly installments.