Ill. Gov.'s Move to Halt Lawmakers' Pay Unconstitutional: Judge

The governor had used his line-item veto this summer to stop lawmakers' checks until they submit a solution to the state pension crisis.

By Ward Room Staff
|  Thursday, Sep 26, 2013  |  Updated 2:00 PM PDT
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A judge ruled Thursday that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's move to halt state lawmakers' paychecks is unconstitutional and they must be paid right away.

Cook County Judge Neil Cohen said the state Constitution makes it clear that lawmakers' pay can't be changed while they serve their terms. Cohen ordered Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to pay the lawmakers immediately.

“Today the circuit court vindicated the Illinois Constitution as Judge Cohen ruled to protect and preserve the separation of powers," Senate President John Cullerton said. "Now that the governor’s actions have been answered by a court, I trust that we can put aside all distractions and focus on the goal of pension reform."

Quinn used his line-item veto this summer to stop lawmakers' checks until they submit a solution to the state pension crisis. He warned of circumstances if they missed his deadline and described the pay halt as a wake-up call for those who have failed for two years to take action.

"This is an emergency," Quinn said at the time. "This is a crisis. This requires the full attention of those who were elected to the General Assembly."

A bipartisan committee has since been created to work through the pension issue, but it has not yet reached a recommendation.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Cullerton filed a lawsuit against Quinn, alleging the veto power he used to suspend paychecks was unconstitutional. The lawsuit also named state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who issues the paychecks.

The lawsuit cites part of the constitution that Judge Cohen pointed to Thursday which says you can't change a lawmaker's salary mid-term.

"Just as the Illinois Constitution of 1970 protects the right of each judge to receive a salary and not have their salary reduced during their term of office, the Constitution also requires that each legislator receive a salary and prohibits "changes" in the salaries of legislators during their terms of office," Madigan and Cullerton said in a lawsuit, filed in Cook County Court.

Quinn has stood by his decision.

When Quinn first announced the suspension, we asked readers in a flash survey whether the governor was right to suspend lawmakers' pay. Eighty-eight percent said yes, while 11 percent said no.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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