CHICAGO – Attorneys for Gov. Pat Quinn say a judge should toss out a lawsuit over his halting of lawmaker salaries because if legislators want their paychecks they can override his veto.
In a motion filed in Cook County Circuit Court on Friday, Quinn’s lawyers acknowledge such an override could be unpopular with Illinois voters. But they say as long as the option exists, the lawsuit filed by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton seeking to restore legislators’ pay is premature.
“When a veto rankles the General Assembly, the usual and constitutionally sanctioned response is to seek to override it,” the attorneys state. “They have declined to exercise that power.”
Quinn’s lawyers also argue he has the constitutional authority to veto money for lawmaker salaries.
The governor used his line-item veto in July to cut $13.8 million for legislators’ salaries from the state budget as a consequence of lawmakers not taking action to resolve Illinois’ nearly $100 billion pension crisis. Madigan and Cullerton – both Chicago Democrats, like Quinn – filed a lawsuit, saying the governor’s action was unconstitutional and violated the state’s separation of powers. They also asked a judge to order paychecks to be issued.
Judge Neil Cohen has set a Sept. 18 court date to hear oral arguments on the case. Meanwhile legislators – who make a base annual salary of $67,836, plus stipends for serving in leadership posts – are set to miss their second monthly paycheck.
Illinois’ five public-employee retirement funds have an unfunded liability of about $97 billion, due largely to lawmakers not making adequate payments to the funds. This year, that annual payment is about $6 billion – about one-fifth of the state’s general fund budget. Quinn and other lawmakers say it would take much-needed money away from areas such as public safety and education.
The Legislature has been unable to agree on a solution. Earlier this summer Quinn suggested and lawmakers agreed to form a bipartisan conference committee to try to come up with a fix. The 10-member panel held public hearings and has since been drafting a potential solution in closed-door meetings.
Among the ideas they’re considering is eliminating automatic 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees and basing retirement benefits on the salary earned over a person’s career, not on the higher salary they earn right before retirement.
Committee members caution they haven’t agreed on a final proposal and anything they recommend would still have to be approved by both chambers of the Legislature and the governor.