|"I don't know how to be governor. I don't know how I got elected. I just keep getting my but kicked by Mike Madigan and John Cullerton, you know, the guys that really run the state. I am just the head moron in charge"|
Story at Chicago Tribune
By Rick Pearson
2:39 PM CDT, September 26, 2013
A Cook County judge today ruled that state lawmakers should get their paychecks, striking a blow against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's move to suspend them until they come up a solution to the state's government worker pension issue.
Judge Neil Cohen's ruling comes after he heard arguments last week from lawyers for the legislative leaders and the Quinn administration. The fundamental question centered on the separation of powers in the state constitution: Is a governor's veto power unchecked, and can he use it to bend reluctant lawmakers to his way of thinking on an issue?
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton took the position that Quinn's paycheck move violated that principle. Quinn defended it. The divide underscored the tensions that exist in an often-dysfunctional Democrat-controlled state government.
"Comptroller (Judy Baar) Topinka is ordered to pay the members and officers of the Illinois General Assembly in accordance with the Public Act 98-64 and the General Assembly Compensation Act plus interest on any amounts that have been withheld," Cohen wrote at the end of his ruling.
Quinn suspended lawmakers' pay in July, and no paychecks went out in August and September. Lawmakers were seeking their paychecks plus interest. Quinn vetoed out lawmaker pay from the budget after repeated calls the past two years for quick action on reducing the state's worst-in-the-nation $100 billion unfunded pension liability for public workers went unheeded.
Quinn has refused to accept his pay while the public employee pension issue remains unsettled. Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's office has issued Quinn his paychecks, but he has not collected them, an aide to the comptroller said.
The hearing featured an array of constitutional arguments -- some highly technical -- over whether limitations exist to the governor's power to reduce or remove spending items after they are approved by lawmakers. It also involved questions of whether the lawsuit should proceed when legislators have an avenue to reject Quinn's action by convening and overriding his veto.
During the hearing last week, Attorney Richard Prendergast, arguing why the case should be heard without lawmakers first attempting to override, frequently referred to the General Assembly needing a two-thirds vote to overturn a governor's veto. The bar is not that high -- it takes only three-fifths of the House and Senate to override a veto under the state constitution.
Moreover, the chief deputy attorney general, representing the comptroller, did not tell the judge that his boss, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, offered some legal advice to Topinka after Quinn's veto. Madigan advised Topinka not to issue lawmaker paychecks because the comptroller lacked the spending authority in the new state budget year that began July 1.
Cohen indicated that his reading of the state constitution -- which he often called "the voice of the people" -- showed that a budget item vetoed by the governor should not be considered law until lawmakers have an opportunity to take action on it.
"Why can't I avoid any constitutional issues when Judy Baar Topinka should have issued the checks when she should have?" Cohen asked Brent Stratton of the attorney general's office. "Are you ready to concede she should issue the checks ... in which case we can end this case right now?"
Stratton told Cohen that Topinka was acting based on "historical practice" when budget lines are vetoed by governors and said it was an "unprecedented event" confronting the state comptroller.
The lead attorney representing Quinn, Steven Pflaum, told the judge that Topinka "did the right thing" by refusing to issue paychecks because she lacked "a lawful appropriation" to pay salaries.