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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Can a Governor Suspend Legislators' Salaries?

9/27/13 Update:  On September 26, 2013, a Cook County circuit court judge ruled against Governor Quinn, holding that the Governor's veto violated Illinois law by "changing" a legislator's salary during the term of office.  Governor Quinn has stated that he will appeal the ruling. 

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and state legislators have been engaged in a number of battles recently, the most public of which concern concealed carry and public pensions. The first battle was resolved when both houses of the Illinois General Assembly voted to override the Governor's veto of the concealed carry bill that would address the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that the state's concealed carry ban was unconstitutional.  The second battle is ongoing, and involves the state's unresolved public pension crisis.  On one side is the Governor, who is urging the legislature to resolve it.  On the other side is the General Assembly, having introduced two separate pieces of legislation (one in the House, the other in the Senate), neither of which has moved forward because there aren't enough votes in both houses to pass either pension option.
With no compromise in sight, what's a state to do?  In an effort to "encourage" the legislature to do something or anything with public pensions, the Governor has taken the unusual action of exercising his line-item veto power on legislators' salaries.  He has been quite vocal that members of the General Assembly shouldn't be paid until they do their jobs - in this case, solve the pension crisis. 
The question is, is it legal?
While there is no question that the Governor has the power to exercise a line-item veto on state expenditures, that authority must still be exercised in accordance with other state laws and constitutional provisions.  One of those provisions relates to elected officials' salaries. Specifically, Section 11 of Article IV of the Illinois Constitution (the constitutional article that relates to the state legislature) states that "changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected."  While the purpose of this provision was to prevent legislators from giving themselves raises during their terms, it seems reasonable to interpret "changes in the salary of a member" to include a decrease (or in this case a suspension) of members' salaries during their term. There are no court decisions involving this situation - the cases that have interpreted this constitutional provision relate mostly to legislative enactments that had the effective of increasing their own compensation.
The Governor's actions present a novel and interesting legal issue that has not yet been considered or decided by a court.  In my opinion, it's not going to either.  This is a political "hot potato" for the Governor, Attorney General, and the General Assembly.  The Governor would likely lose in court if his actions were challenged.  The Attorney General, who is rumored to be considering a run for Governor, isn't going to want to defend a losing case nor would she want to be seen as defending the inactions of the state legislature on pensions.  The legislators aren't going to make any "friends" with taxpayers if they sue the state to get paid, while leaving the pension issue unresolved. 
This issue is turning into one long "stare contest" - who will blink first?


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