Illinois: Deficits Tied to Lawmakers' Salaries?

The recession has been blamed for a series of record state budget shortfalls. But perhaps there’s another factor at work: overpaid lawmakers. A new Illinois Policy Institute study finds that the deficits in the 10 states that pay their legislators the most are 12 percent higher than the deficits in the 10 stingiest states. California lawmakers earn a national high of $95,000 per year, for example, and they oversaw a budget that’s $23 billion in the red—tops in the U.S. Members of New York’s legislature made a third-best $75,500 overseeing a $9.2 billion deficit. And Illinois’s top politicians, who helped the Prairie State become one of only two with a projected deficit next year, made $22,000 more than the average person they represent.

The findings bolster the case for “amateur” lawmakers, says Kristina Rasmussen, who edited the report. Part-time legislators are not only paid less, but they also represent states with lower tax rates and, government watchdogs suggest, are less vulnerable to corruption. After all, they probably didn’t get into politics for the money.

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