CHICAGO — The Illinois House speaker and Senate president filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday challenging his move to stop paying lawmakers to pressure them to pass pension reform.
The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday by Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, both Democrats from Chicago, on their individual behalf and in their official capacity, according to a copy of the complaint.
The two informed lawmakers of their intent to sue Quinn in a letter Tuesday calling the governor's action, using a line-item veto to strip legislative pay from the fiscal 2014 budget, "purely political and an unconstitutional attempt to coerce the legislature to comply with his demands.
"This matter is of fundamental constitutional importance, as Gov. Quinn's action threatens the independence of each branch of government," the leaders wrote. "By eliminating General Assembly members' salaries, the governor has chosen to disregard separation of powers and its necessity if our government is to work properly and efficiently."
The leaders said the move could not go unchecked and a lawsuit, instead of an attempt to override the veto, was the proper course to ensure a precedent was not set that violates the General Assembly's independence.
The complaint first asks the court to declare that the line-item veto did not cancel out legislative salaries for the fiscal 2014 year and that state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka be ordered to cut lawmakers' next check due this week.
If the court finds that Quinn's action earlier this month did cancel out the appropriation, it seeks a declaration that the move violates the state constitution and asks that Topinka be ordered to restore their pay.
Quinn issued a statement attacking the lawsuit.
"If legislators had put forth the same effort to draw up a pension reform agreement that they did in crafting this lawsuit, pension reform could have been done by now," he said. "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."
Quinn, who also asked the comptroller to withhold his paycheck, used his line item veto powers on July 10 after lawmakers missed his latest deadline to enact pension reforms. A legislative conference committee is attempting to hash out a new plan that can break two years of legislative gridlock on pension reform.
While Cullerton and Madigan joined forces on the lawsuit, it is an impasse between the two over what form reforms should take that has led to the latest stalemate.
The lawsuit filing follows Topinka's announcement late last week that, based on a review conducted by her office and consultations with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, lawmakers would not be paid unless they pursued a legal challenge or override the veto.
Illinois has a $95 billion unfunded pension obligation for a 40% funded ratio. Lawmakers' failure to solve the state's pension crisis before adjourning their regular session at the end of May drove two ratings downgrades. All three rating agencies assign a low-single-A level rating to the state's general obligation debt and a negative outlook. A subsequent downgrade would push the state's credit into the BBB category.
Madigan initially sided with the governor's action saying he hoped the strategy worked while Cullerton had called it unproductive.