CHICAGO – A Cook County, Ill. Circuit Court judge sided with lawmakers Thursday in ruling that Gov. Pat Quinn violated the state constitution when he stripped legislative pay from the fiscal 2014 budget in an attempt to pressure them to act on pension reforms.
The decision delivers a blow to Quinn’s efforts to push lawmakers to act. His office said the state would appeal the decision and seek a stay preventing the distribution of paychecks. “The reason I suspended legislative paychecks in the first place – and refused to accept my own – is because Illinois taxpayers can’t afford an endless cycle of promises, excuses, delays and inertia on the most critical challenge of our time,” Quinn said in a statement.
Pension reform has been stuck in political gridlock for two years and it’s unclear how soon the General Assembly might act on a new reform package being crafted by a special legislative conference committee.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil H. Cohen granted the summary judgment request sought by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who filed the lawsuit challenging Quinn’s July veto.
Cohen agreed that Quinn’s veto violated a provision in the state constitution that bans “changes” in a lawmaker’s salary during his or her term. “In exercising his line-item veto to change the salaries of General Assembly members during the terms in which they were elected, the governor violated” the constitutional provisions rendering the action “void and of no effect,” Cohen wrote
Cohen also ordered state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to cut paychecks for lawmakers. “I have consistently said action was required by the General Assembly or the court to authorize restoration of those payments,” Topinka said in a statement. “That has now occurred, and the Comptroller’s Office will comply. Processing of paychecks for August, September and October begins today.”
Cohen heard arguments in the case last week. Lawyers for Quinn contended that the governor has the constitutional power to veto any item from the budget and lawmakers should have first attempted a veto override – which requires a three-fifths vote – before turning to the courts.
Attorneys for the legislative leaders argued that the veto was unconstitutional because it, in effect, altered legislative salaries in midterm in violation the constitution on separation of powers that protect the independence of individual branches of government.