CHICAGO— Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said state lawmakers won’t be paid next month unless they pursue a legal challenge or override Gov. Pat Quinn’s action stripping their pay authorization out of the fiscal 2014 budget.
Quinn used his amendatory veto powers earlier this month on the appropriation in an attempt to pressure lawmakers to reach agreement on a comprehensive pension reform package. His move came after lawmakers failed to meet his July 9 deadline for action on reforms.
Topinka, whose office cuts state employee and legislative checks, launched a legal review of Quinn’s veto. On Thursday, she said there are conflicting legal opinions on the matter but “at this point in time, the Attorney General has advised that these payments cannot be made without an appropriation or court order.”
That means the next round of legislative paychecks will be withheld. Quinn also requested that he also not be paid.
Topinka said the decision followed discussion with her own staff, the governor’s legal staff, legislative legal staffs, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. Topinka ultimately is following the attorney general’s position and cited a prior court ruling that found the comptroller can’t pay employees without an appropriation in place.
“This situation is different in that it involves two, co-equal branches of government, and that distinction may well be considered by the court down the line,” Topinka said. “It is my deep hope that this matter is resolved expeditiously either by legislative action or court intervention. Given the serious precedent that is being created, I look forward to receiving additional guidance from the judicial branch.”
The General Assembly would need to file litigation challenging the constitutionality of Quinn’s action to restore their paychecks–absent an override attempt. Both would likely prove unpopular with the public given the widespread attention focused on the cost of legislative inaction on pension reform which has driven downgrades of the state’s rating.
“This is no way to run government,” she said. “Threats, blackmail and inertia may be good theater, but it makes us look ridiculous and takes away from our ability to get things done. It is time for leaders to lead,” she said.
Quinn reacted to Topinka’s announcement in a statement, saying: “Lack of action on pension reform costs Illinois taxpayers millions of dollars every day, has forced $2 billion in education cuts and $3 billion in social service cuts, and has resulted in multiple downgrades of the state’s credit rating. Legislators should not be paid until they enact comprehensive pension reform.”
A legislative conference committee is attempting to break the political gridlock on reforms and come up with a new package that can win approval in the coming months.