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No Budget, No Pay, So Illinois Lawmaker Turns to Uber

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Illinois state Rep. Jaime Andrade Jr. has spent the summer putting in as many hours as he can as an Uber driver, piloting a 2001 Chevy Venture minivan his mother gave him in June.

He was driving under the radar until Capitol Fax, a political website, carried his story the first week of August.

It isn’t a political stunt. The Democrat needs the money.

“I needed to find other means of income that would not directly affect me serving my community as a state rep,” Andrade told WBBM-Radio. “It can be quite lifesaving, to put food on your table, pay your bills.”

PJM reported state Comptroller Leslie Munger put the brakes on legislative pay when budget talks screeched to a halt earlier this year. A $40 billion stopgap budget approved at the end of June is only temporary, and Illinois is now spending $8 billion more than the state is collecting in tax revenue.

As a result, the General Assembly paychecks are going out months late, something the state’s lottery winners who haven’t seen their winnings because of the budget problems must appreciate.

Paychecks did go out to Andrade and his compatriots the first week of July, but those checks were the first they had seen in three months, and only covered April.

Paychecks could be in the mail the last week of August, or maybe the first week of September. But that is only a rumor from Springfield. And those checks would only cover May.

Andrade is afraid his payless paydays will drag on for months to come.

“Leadership on both sides will not move because state reps aren’t getting paid, to be honest, they’ll probably just say, ‘If you can’t take the heat, leave,’” he said.

The financial problems of Rep. Andrade and other lawmakers are ironic, considering they each earn $67,836 per year for what is supposed to be part-time employment.

An Illinois Policy Institute study released July 27 showed the average Illinois legislator also receives:

  • Stipends: In addition to their base salaries, Illinois legislators can earn between $10,000 and $30,000 in stipends for holding leadership positions or serving on a committee. The vast majority – 67 percent – of Illinois lawmakers receive a stipend in addition to their base salary.
  • Healthcare and dental insurance: In 2016, healthcare and dental insurance cost Illinois taxpayers nearly $7,300 per legislator. Illinois has 177 legislators.
  • Per diem payments and mileage reimbursements: In 2015, Illinois taxpayers paid more than $7,700 in per diem payments and mileage reimbursement costs for each legislator.
  • Pension: Illinoisans also pay nearly $15,000 per lawmaker for the pension benefits they accrue each year. In addition to this, taxpayers must pay millions of dollars every year into the General Assembly Retirement System to keep the pension fund afloat. Lawmakers can retire in their 50s, receive 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustments, and earn 85 percent of their final salary after just 20 years of service.

The Illinois Policy Institute did the math and figures each lawmaker costs taxpayers more than $100,000 in 2015. That means the elected members of the Illinois General Assembly were the fifth-highest paid legislators in the nation, and the most expensive in the Midwest.

Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, said it’s time for that to stop.

“Especially when the General Assembly has made Illinois the laughingstock of the nation. Lawmakers haven’t passed a full budget, the state can’t pay its bills and, yet, legislators still prioritize their pay over core social services,” said Dabrowski.

“It’s time for legislators to set an example of how to cut back by starting with their pay and perks,” Dabrowski added. “They should set an example for other areas of state government of how to reduce the cost of government to a level taxpayers can afford.”

Even though it wasn’t of his choosing, perhaps Andrade is setting that example as he continues driving for Uber, sandwiching in as many runs as he can between his in-district legislative duties.

Not only is Andrade learning what it is like to be just another working stiff, but he has also found that the life of an entrepreneur is not easy.

Some passengers complained his minivan wasn’t cool enough. That was a problem that could have crashed his Uber moonlighting.

If a driver’s rating drops low enough, he can lose his Uber privileges.

So, even though Andrade has been clearing less than $600 on his best week, he put in phone chargers for his passengers that are hanging from the ceiling. There is now a mirror behind the passenger seat. And he always offers a fresh supply of cold water bottles.

There is one more improvement Andrade has made to create a better traveling experience for his customers, especially those paying for a ride after the bars close down in Chicago.

There is now a mini garbage can beside the driver’s seat.

“A face fits right in there,” Andrade told DNAinfo Radio Chicago. “A bag might not work.”