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Leaders seek to speed up lawsuit over lawmaker pay

Published: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 9:29 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 11:42 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP file photo)
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, with Senate President John Cullerton looking on at left, speaks to reporters June 10 after a meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn in Chicago to discuss the state's pension crisis. Madigan and Cullerton are trying to speed up the resolution of a lawsuit they filed over Quinn's decision to cut lawmakers' pay.

CHICAGO – Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan are trying to speed up the resolution of a lawsuit they filed over Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to cut lawmakers' pay.

Legislators already have missed their August paycheck as a result of Quinn cutting $13.8 million for lawmaker salaries from the state budget, and they're expected to miss at least one more before the next scheduled court date.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, has said his line-item veto was a consequence for lawmakers' failure to address Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

Cullerton and Madigan, also Chicago Democrats, sued Quinn last week, saying the veto is unconstitutional and violates the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. They also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking a Cook County circuit judge to force Quinn and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka – whose office controls the state's checkbook – to issue the paychecks.

Judge Neil Cohen on Tuesday set a Sept. 18 court date to hear oral arguments on the preliminary injunction. That means lawmakers, who are paid on the first day of each month, would miss their September check before the motion would be decided. Under that schedule, it would likely take even longer – and mean more missed checks – for a final resolution of the lawsuit itself.

So Madigan and Cullerton asked Cohen on Thursday to consider the merits of the lawsuit rather than the preliminary injunction when he hears oral arguments, said Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Cullerton.

"This change may lead to a quicker resolution of the case," Phelon said in an email.

Quinn believes he has the authority to cut legislators' pay, and argues that lawmakers also have the option of going to Springfield and voting to override his veto – a move that would require a three-fifths vote and, the governor has predicted, would be wildly unpopular with voters frustrated by the Legislature's inaction.

He has also said the best option for lawmakers is to pass legislation to address the state's unfunded pension liability, a shortfall that grows by millions of dollars a day and that has taken money away from other programs, such as schools and public safety.

Lawmakers have so far been unable to agree on a fix for the pension problem, which was caused largely by years of skipping or shorting state payments to Illinois' five public-employee retirement systems.

In June, the House and Senate voted to form a 10-member, bipartisan conference committee to try to come up with legislation that could pass both chambers. Members of the committee have said they're making progress, but a date has not been set for them to present any proposed solutions.

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