Illinois’ two powerful Democratic legislative leaders filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision to withhold lawmaker pay until the legislature sends him a measure to overhaul the state’s highly indebted public employee pension system.
In the suit, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton argue the governor’s move violates the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch. They want the court to overturn Quinn’s move and are asking a Cook County judge for an injunction ordering the state comptroller to pay salaries. The first check lawmakers are scheduled to miss will be issued on Thursday.
“If the governor’s line-item veto is upheld, the independence of each member of the General Assembly is 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,” the lawsuit states.
“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, abortion rights or tax policy,” the suit states.
Quinn used his veto powers earlier this month to strip $13.8 million from the budget that was set aside for legislative salaries, saying lawmakers aren’t doing their job to solve the pension crisis and therefore shouldn’t be paid.
Quinn is also voluntarily giving up his pay until the pension issue is resolved. Base pay for legislators is $67,836, though most earn thousands more through stipends for serving in party leadership or heading various legislative committees.
The populist move put lawmakers in a tricky spot politically: either get by without pay or face the political backlash that could accompany a lawsuit or a vote to override Quinn’s action. By filing the suit on behalf of their members, Madigan and Cullerton are attempting to absorb much of the fallout and avoid a tough vote for the rank-and-file.