By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn‘s move to withhold legislative salaries until lawmakers can agree on a pension reform package is a bit hollow.
That’s because tate lawmakers have already been paid for July, and the Illinois Comptroller’s office said lawmakers are not due to get another
portion of their $67,836 annual salary until Aug. 1.
Plus, there’s the possibility the state constitution may expressly prohibit Quinn’s money-withholding proposal.
The governor on Wednesday cut legislative salaries from the new state budget, his delivery of his threatened “consequences” for a lack of pension reform.
“Every time (the legislature) missed a deadline, the taxpayers have had to pay,” Quinn said. “Now it’s time for the legislature to understand they will have to pay.”
Quinn said slashing legislative paychecks may be the only way to get lawmakers to “hear the pension alarm bells.”
But the only ringing state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, thinks lawmakers will hear is the bell that will chime when lawmakers override the governor’s budget cuts.
“It’s all but an eventuality that lawmakers will return to Springfield for an override,” Sandack said about an hour after the governor’s announcement. “It’s pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that this is a ‘governor gone wild’ with power, and is trying to show lawmakers who is in charge.”
Critics say Quinn’s efforts only highlight how detached he is from the legislature and their work on pension reform.
“The governor’s actions today do nothing to move us toward a solution to our pension crisis and only serve as an unnecessary distraction,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekrtiz, D-Northbrook, the House’s pension point-woman. “We would urge the governor to join us as we push to the finish line to really do what is right for Illinois.”
Illinois’ legislative leaders also have little regard for Quinn’s moves.
“The governor’s actions today are as unproductive as yesterday’s arbitrary deadline. Responsible leaders know that unworkable demands will only delay progress,” Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said in a statement.
House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, issued his own statement dryly wishing Quinn luck.
“I am hopeful his strategy works,” Madigan said.
Quinn calls the move to stop legislative paychecks a “drastic measure” but said it is the only option.
Sandack, however, said Quinn simply does not understand how to work with lawmakers.
“He may think he’s a king, but alternatively he may not know how to lead or how to be governor,” Sandack said.
Illinois’ special pension committee has been trying to find a pension reform package that will both save the state billions of dollars and is politically viable.
The committee told the governor they would not meet his July 9 deadline, but members have said they may have something for legislative consideration by the end of the month.
But lawmakers may not miss any paydays.
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka is requesting a legal review of Quinn’s order.
Topinka cites the Illinois Constitution, which says “changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”
Topinka said she should get a legal opinion before lawmakers’ next scheduled payday.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.or or find him on Twitter @BenYount.