Illinois Governor Vetoed Their Pay in Retaliation, Legislators Claim

     CHICAGO (CN) – The leaders of the Illinois House and Senate sued Gov. Pat Quinn, claiming he illegally used a line-item veto to “entirely eliminate” lawmakers’ salaries as punishment for not passing pension reforms.
     Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan sued Gov. Quinn and state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, in Cook County Court.
     All three men are Democrats.
     In high dudgeon, the complaint states: “Not since Governor Blagojevich attempted to reduce the salaries of Illinois judges in 2003 have the actions of the Executive Branch so threatened the independence of a co-equal branch of government. On July 10, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn exercised his line-item veto power on an appropriations bill by attempting to entirely eliminate General Assembly members’ salaries, despite unmistakable constitutional protection of those salaries. Just as the Illinois Constitution of 1970 protects the right of each judge to receive a salary and not have their salary reduced during their term of office, the Constitution also requires that each legislator receive a salary and prohibits ‘changes’ in the salaries of legislators during their terms of office. The Illinois Supreme Court invalidated Governor Blagojevich’s actions that threatened the independence and integrity of the Judiciary, and this court should likewise invalidate Governor Quinn’s attempt to punish members of the General Assembly by completely eliminating their salaries.
     “When the Illinois Supreme Court invalidated Governor Blagojevich’s attempt to reduce the salaries of the Judicial Branch, it wrote: ‘For checks and balances to work properly in protecting individual liberty, each of the three branches of government must be kept free from the control or coercive influence of the other branches.’ Jorgensen v. Blagojevich, 211 Ill. 2d 286, 299 (2004). Indeed, protecting either the Judicial or Legislative Branches of government from unwarranted intrusion by another branch is important not for the sake of those particular officers but for the people at large: ‘Avoiding the concentration of governmental powers in the same person or political body was seen by the founding fathers as essential to freedom and liberty.’ Id.
     “That crucial safeguard has been jeopardized by Governor Quinn’s actions at issue in this lawsuit. If the governor’s line-item veto is upheld, the independence of each member of the General Assembly will be forever compromised. Any governor will hold a trump card over a co-equal branch of government, attempting to bend the members of the General Assembly to his or her will with the threat of eliminating their salaries, which for some legislators is their only source of income. In this particular instance, Governor Quinn has stated that his dispute with the General Assembly is over the lack of pension reform legislation. Next time, it may be gun control or abortion rights or tax policy. If the governor’s actions are sustained, there will be no limit to the oppression the governor could assert over members of the Legislative Branch, irrevocably altering the separation of powers so carefully crafted by the framers of the Illinois Constitution of 1970.”
     Illinois faces a $100 billion unfunded public pension liability, but the Assembly ended its spring term without coming to a resolution on pension reform.
     The leaders asked the court to declare “that, in fact, the line-item veto to the appropriations bill in question did not eliminate legislative salaries as prescribed by, [sic] and thus Comptroller Topinka should be required to pay those salaries baled on the plain language of the appropriations bill and based on Illinois law. Second, and in the alternative, if the court were to determine that the governor’s line-item veto did, in fact, eliminate legislative salaries, plaintiffs seek both a declaration that the line-item veto violated the Illinois Constitution of 1970 and an injunction ordering Comptroller Topinka to pay legislative salaries to remedy that constitutional violation.”
     Members of the Illinois assembly are paid $68,000 per year, with extra bonuses to those in leadership positions.
     Quinn responded to the lawsuit in a statement: “My action to suspend the appropriation for legislative pay is clearly within the express provisions of the Illinois Constitution. Legislators should not be rewarded for an endless cycle of promises, excuses, delay and inertia on the pension problem. I’ve spent a lot of time with working people across Illinois who understand the importance of this issue. They work hard for their paychecks and they do what’s hard to support their families. They don’t get paid if they don’t do their jobs. And neither should members of the General Assembly.”
     The legislators are represented by Special Assistant Attorney General Richard Prendergast.

%d bloggers like this: