Fight over state lawmakers' suspended paychecks continues

July 31, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The governor spoke publicly for the first time since he was sued by legislators challenging his actions.

On Wednesday in Chicago, the governor said Illinois lawmakers have more important things to do than going to court to get their paychecks.

"I think it's much better for the legislators to focus on pension reform," he said.

Quinn says Illinois lawmakers did not need to file a lawsuit to restore the salaries that Quinn amendatory-vetoed three weeks ago.

"The legislature has an opportunity if they don't agree with me to go down to Springfield and take a vote and override what I did and tell the people they think their pay is more important than pension reform," Quinn said.

"The legislature is concerned that this will be something that can happen consistently or continually," said Maze Jackson, Compass Public Affairs.

Jackson is a Chicago-based Springfield lobbyist. He says votes to restore their own pay would be politically disastrous for lawmakers.

"They could run the risk of the perception that they are getting paid and they have not finished the job, which is the narrative that the governor has created," Jackson said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate State Senator Bill Brady said the lawsuit between filed by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton against a Democratic governor distracts attention from pension reform.

"This just seems like another Blagojevich/Quinn episode of embarrassment for Illinois," Brady said.

Madigan and Cullerton contend the salaries of sitting lawmakers are protected during their terms. The governor says he acted only because resolving the $100 billion pension debt is an emergency. "The legislators have to put aside their own paycheck concerns and put the economic concerns of the people first and foremost," Quinn said.

Barring some eleventh-hour intervention by the courts, the state comptroller will not deposit lawmaker paychecks at midnight.

Several law professors agree the lawmakers have a good case and could win their salaries back in a courtroom. But the same experts say the court would not hear the case until after lawmakers at least attempted to overturn the governor's veto.

Approximately $5,653 is what the average state lawmaker stands to lose starting Thursday because Governor Quinn cut off paycheck funding for as long as the state pension crisis remains unresolved.

Madigan and Cullerton call the governor's move purely political and unconstitutional. They also say their lawsuit is not about the money.

Quinn released a statement Tuesday saying if lawmaker spent as much time on pension reform as they did on drawing up the lawsuit, they would be done by now.

"Until the job is done I don't think legislators would be paid, I'm not taking a paycheck," said Gov. Quinn. "I think the people of Illinois, the taxpayers, fully understand that the pension cloud over our economy needs to be resolved.

The lawsuit claims it is unconstitutional for the governor to veto legislators' pay because he doesn't like something they've done, or in this case, haven't done.

In a letter to lawmakers, Cullerton and Madigan insist the fight is about the General Assembly's independence. They wrote, "In this case, the governor is seeking changes to the pension system, but next time it could be tax policy, gun control or education reform. The possibilities are endless.

"Under the Illinois Constitution, the speaker and the Senate president are correct -- both in terms of what the constitution says and in terms of existing precedent in Illinois," said Victor Filippini, Northwestern University law professor and Holland and Knight attorney.

But in a February meeting with the State Journal-Register, Cullerton appears to interpret the law differently.

"There's a provision in the constitution - as it should be - that says judges compensation shall not be diminished. The Legislature has a separate provision in the constitution that says our salaries cannot be changed - I'm sure the framers of the Constitution meant by that they can't be raised," said Cullerton.

"When you get into the weeds about the law and constitution you lose people. Voters are going to remember that they went into court to sue to get their money when they weren't getting anything done in Springfield," said Laura Washington, ABC7 political analyst.

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