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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Illinois Governor Sued by Legislators Over Salary Veto

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. 

A few weeks ago, I reported on Illinois Governor Quinn's line item veto of that portion of the appropriations bill containing the salaries of Illinois  legislators.  At the time of his veto, the Governor stated that he didn't think members of the General Assembly should get paid until they do their jobs - specifically, pass pension reform legislation.  As I noted in that blog post, I was skeptical that the Governor's action was legal based on language in the Illinois constitution that prohibits a decrease in a legislator's salary during his or her term of office.  I also did concluded that I didn't think this dispute would end up in court.  I thought legislators would be reluctant to sue to get paid because taxpayers/voters wouldn't be very sympathetic to legislators' plight since most voters agree that they didn't get the job done with respect to pension reform. 
Well,  I was wrong.  Today, Senate leader John Cullerton and House leader Michael Madigan teamed up as plaintiffs to sue the Governor and State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, seeking an injunction to force the State to pay the members' salaries. 
The complaint gets off to a rousing start, with the following introductory sentence:  "Not since Governor Blagojevich attempted to reduce the salaries of Illinois judges in 2003 have the actions of the Executive Branch so threatened the independence of a co-equal branch of government."  That accusation is probably not going over well at the Governor's mansion. 
The crux of the plaintiffs' argument is that the Illinois constitution prevents the Executive Branch of state government (the Governor) from unilaterally modifying the salaries of the Legislative Branch of state government (the General Assembly).  The plaintiffs seek a court declaration that the Governor's veto did not eliminate the legislative salaries so that the Comptroller can cut the paychecks.  Alternatively, the plaintiffs argue that if the Governor's veto did eliminate the legislators' salaries, that action was unconstitutional, and the plaintiffs ask the court to order the Comptroller to pay the legislators' salaries.
Just another installment in "As the State of Illinois Turns..."   Stay tuned.


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