By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers won’t get their paychecks because of an order from Gov. Pat Quinn, even though the woman holding the money thinks the state’s chief executive is wrong.
Quinn earlier this month cut salaries for state lawmakers from the new budget because he said lawmakers hadn’t done
enough to fix Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension systems.
On Thursday, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who pays the state’s bills, said she has to follow Quinn’s order because she cannot spend money that isn’t in the state budget.
“At this point in time, the Attorney General has advised that these payments cannot be made without an appropriation or court order,” Topinka said in a statement.
While Topinka said she is bound to follow Quinn’s order, she doesn’t agree with the governor.
“This is no way to run government,” Topinka said. “Threats, blackmail and inertia may be good theater, but it makes us look ridiculous and takes away from our ability to get things done.”
Quinn was quick to declare victory in the latest round of the pension fight.
“”Today Comptroller Topinka properly recognized and adhered to my line-item veto of appropriations for legislative salaries,” the governor said in his own statement. “Legislators should not be paid until they enact comprehensive pension reform.”
“If someone came up to me and said ‘I’m not going to contribute to you, unless you do what I want’ that’d be a bribe,” said state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-Moline. “And (Gov. Quinn’s order) seems awful damn close to a bribe to me.”
University of Illinois at Springfield professor Kent Redfield said you could also call the governor’s paycheck veto blackmail or extortion.
“The difference between bribery and extortion, or blackmail, is often a matter of who is taking the initiative and how people perceive the arrangement,” Redfield said. “But either way, it is outside of the principles and values of the American political system.”
Redfield said Quinn is going well beyond the powers given to a governor by withholding paychecks from lawmakers in order to force an outcome on pension reform.
“It’s an extremely dangerous precedent, and it’s undoubtedly unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers,” Redfield said.
“Take (pension reform) out of the equation. Can you imagine any governor, or mayor, or county board chairman in the future saying ‘If you don’t do something, I’m not going to pay you’,” said state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. “If this tool is going to be used now, what’s the next issue?”
The governor has hinted at a special session on pension reform in mid-August, but has not called lawmakers back to the Capitol.
The legislature’s special pension committee said earlier this week it is not working under Quinn’s timeline, and will have a pension reform proposal only when the committee has completed its work.
Email Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount