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September 27, 2013

Ill. gov. wants lawmaker pay halted during appeal

CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants a judge to stop legislators from being paid while he appeals a court ruling that such a hold — imposed by the governor as a consequence of inaction on the state’s massive pension crisis — was unconstitutional.

Attorneys for Quinn were scheduled to appear before Cook County Circuit Judge Neil Cohen Friday morning, one day after Cohen ordered Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to immediately pay legislators the two monthly paychecks they’ve missed since the governor’s July veto.

But the governor’s request for a stay of Cohen’s order may come too late.

Topinka, a Republican who controls the state’s checkbook, said late Thursday her office already was processing the checks and that lawmakers with direct deposit should have money in their bank accounts Friday morning.

Paper checks also would be in the mail, she said. She also criticized the Democratic governor for what she called “game playing.”

Topinka’s quick action brought a rebuke from Quinn’s office.

“We’re disappointed that she started to issue paychecks,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “Her enthusiasm to hand out paychecks to legislators appears to exceed her interest in public pension reform.”

Lawmakers make an annual base salary of about $67,000, plus bonuses for serving in leadership.

Quinn used his line-item veto to cut $13.1 million for lawmaker salaries from the state budget because he was angry they had not yet found a fix for Illinois’ nearly $100 billion pension shortfall. He also refused to accept his own paychecks, which Topinka said have been piling up on her desk.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued, saying their fellow Chicago Democrat had violated the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. They also argued a provision of the Illinois Constitution says lawmakers’ pay cannot be changed during their current term in office.

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