House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton stepped up their effort Monday to persuade a judge to pay all 177 lawmakers even though Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed their salaries for failing to rein in Illinois' worst-in-the-nation pension debt.
Lawyers for the Democratic legislative leaders filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that asked a Cook County judge to rule Quinn's line-item veto "null and void" and declare that the governor's move "did not eliminate legislative salaries."
If a judge agrees with that point of view, the spigot could be turned back on for lawmaker paychecks, which did not arrive Thursday as scheduled after the governor's action. The two legislative leaders have asked for interest on the lost pay.
The first hearing in the case is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday. It's likely Judge Neil Cohen will do little more than outline a schedule for the governor's lawyers to respond and set a date for an early showdown. Madigan and Cullerton filed their lawsuit last week just before the checks were stopped.
Madigan and Cullerton argue that the Democratic governor's veto represents a punishment of lawmakers that violates the basic constitutional tenet of separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. The leaders also argue that Quinn's line-item veto is unconstitutional because legislative salaries cannot be changed midterm. They support their case by citing how the Illinois judiciary struck down an attempt by Quinn's predecessor, now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to take away money owed to judges.
Quinn, who says he's giving up his salary during the dispute, disagrees.
"As the governor has made clear, this lawsuit is wrong on the law and wrong for taxpayers," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. "Not only is the governor's action to suspend the appropriation clearly within the expressed provisions of the Illinois Constitution, but the idea that anybody should be paid in Springfield when Illinois has a $100 billion pension cloud hanging over us is unfathomable."
Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka will be represented by the office of Speaker Madigan's daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Quinn and the lawmakers have selected their own special assistant attorney's general.
Nobody on either side of the case is missing the point that Quinn's paycheck veto is political gold because many voters are fed up with Springfield dysfunction and still angry that Democrats hiked their income taxes.
But Quinn also is frustrated with the legislature's inability to send him a pension solution, repeatedly saying for nearly two years that the failure to act costs taxpayers millions of dollars a day. Madigan and Cullerton have not come together behind a single way to overhaul pensions. Instead, they've sent rival plans to each other's chamber. Madigan's pension reform failed overwhelmingly in the Senate, and he hasn't called Cullerton's plan for a vote in the House.
Twitter @RayLongCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun