Judge hears arguments in suit over lawmaker pay

September 18, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Lawmakers filed suit after the governor halted their pay until pension reform is acted on to fix a nearly $100 billion crisis.

The judge took the case under advisement and promised a ruling by Thursday, September 26, at the latest.

The attorneys representing the lawmakers finally had their chance to make their case. They told Cook County Judge Neil Cohen that Governor Pat Quinn had violated the separation of powers when Quinn line-item vetoed lawmaker salaries because the General Assembly had not passed a pension reform bill.

"I don't think that it's appropriate to comment on the case while the judge has it under advisement, so I think we will decline to comment," said Mike Kasper, Madigan attorney.

"We're going to get paid again someday. I don't know exactly when," said State Rep. Ron Sandack, (R), Downers Grove.

Sandack watched most of the hearing. He said he's worried the governor's action might set a precedent.

"The idea that the governor can just line-item-out pay in the middle of a session has a lot of implications. It can be used for any reason whatsoever," said Sandack.

As the governor sat in the courtroom watching, his attorney argued lawmakers could override Quinn's veto, calling the lawsuit premature because the line-item veto process was incomplete. Earlier Wednesday, Quinn said not accepting his own check and not paying lawmakers is an essential part of a strategy to reform the state's underfunded pension system.

"It's time now to send a message to all of us in elected office that we must get this done, and I think holding up the paychecks is the right way to go," Quinn said.

Judge Cohen repeatedly asked Brent Stratton, the attorney for Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, why Topinka did not issue August and September paychecks if, as the governor's lawyers contend, the line-item veto process had not been completed.

"I think I remember the comptroller getting a legal opinion from the attorney general. And I think it's the opinion of the comptroller that without a specific appropriation, she has no authority to issue checks," said Sandack.

A House-Senate conference committee still has not proposed a pension reform bill to be considered by the General Assembly. It appears now that a court decision on the salary issue will happen first, certainly before any bill might be passed by lawmakers.

Lawmakers earn a base annual salary of $67,836. They've missed two monthly paychecks so far.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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