Constitutional Law

Lawmakers sue Illinois governor for canceling their paychecks due to unresolved budget issue

Lawmakers in Illinois have sued the state’s governor, who threw down the glove by canceling their paychecks unless and until they came up with a solution to the state’s $100 billion in unfunded pension liability.

House and senate leaders filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday, contending that it is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers for him to eliminate their salaries through his line-item veto, reports the Associated Press.

“This matter is of fundamental constitutional importance, as Governor Quinn’s action threatens the independence of each branch of government,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton in a joint press release about their Cook County Circuit Court suit. “The Illinois Constitution protects the salaries of members of the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive branch.”

The plaintiffs offer two arguments for restoring the lawmakers’ pay:

First, they say Quinn may not have had the ability to block their pay through a line-item veto on a budget bill. If that theory is correct, the state comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka, should be ordered to pay lawmakers’ salaries “based on the plain language of the appropriations bill and on Illinois law.”

Second, even if Quinn does have the power to veto the lawmakers’ salary appropriation, Madigan and Cullerton want the court to make a declaratory judgment that his elimination of their pay violated the state constitution and order Topinka to issue their paychecks “to remedy that constitutional violation.”

Topinka, who is also named as a defendant in the suit against Quinn, said she consulted with state Attorney General Lisa Madigan (Michael Madigan’s daughter), and was told Quinn’s pay veto was legal. Hence, she has to comply with it, although she would welcome further guidance, an earlier Associated Press article reported.

Quinn called the legal action “just plain wrong” and said his cancellation of lawmakers’ pay was “within the express provisions of the Illinois Constitution,” reports Crain’s Chicago Business (sub. req.).

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