Gov. Pat Quinn dropped his appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court over his failed attempt to withhold legislators' paychecks until they sent him a bill to overhaul the state's public employee pension system, clearing the way to collect nearly $74,000 in back pay he refused to take during the stalemate.
The Democratic governor vetoed out lawmakers' pay in July, saying they didn't deserve a salary while the pension issue went unresolved. Democratic legislative leaders sued, arguing that the move violated the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.
In September, a Cook County judge ruled that the move was unconstitutional, allowing the comptroller to issue two months worth of checks to members of the House and Senate. The governor appealed to the state Supreme Court but stopped pursuing the case after lawmakers sent him sweeping changes to the state's employee retirement systems that he signed into law this month.
"The governor directed his legal counsel to drop his appeal of the trial court ruling of his suspension of legislative pay," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. "Illinois is moving forward."
It was not immediately clear how much the court fight will cost taxpayers in legal fees — neither the governor's office nor comptroller's office had estimates available. Quinn's office announced the governor's decision not to pursue the appeal late Friday afternoon, when politicians traditionally dump unflattering news in the hope it will get less attention over the weekend.
Quinn, who makes $177,412 a year, also picked up $73,921 worth of pay he put on hold until lawmakers passed pension changes. The idea was to insulate himself from criticism that he had denied lawmakers their money but was still drawing his own salary.
The governor vetoed $13.8 million in legislative pay from the budget after lawmakers left Springfield in May without sending him a pension overhaul measure, which he had made a cornerstone push of his last two years in office. Quinn contended the move might spur action by hitting lawmakers in the pocketbooks, though critics said the move was populist grandstanding that did little to help strike a deal.
Democratic legislative leaders argued that Quinn's action set a dangerous precedent in which a governor could withhold pay for any political reason, subverting the separation of powers on which the democratic process is built. They also pointed to a provision in the state constitution that says lawmakers' pay cannot be changed in the middle of their term. Quinn's attorneys argued unsuccessfully that the framers of the constitution meant to prevent legislators from giving themselves midterm raises, but that their pay could be decreased.
House and Senate Democratic leaders welcomed Quinn's decision to drop the case.
"I think our position all along was that this was a failed strategy, and I think the governor is now acknowledging that," said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, who represents a Southwest Side district.
A spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton said the North Side Democrat was "glad that this is behind us."
"We stand by our previous position that this was a dangerous precedent and ineffective in terms of moving the ball forward in developing a pension reform plan," Cullerton spokesman Rikeesha Phelon said.
The move will allow the state to focus on another impending court battle as employee unions say they are preparing a lawsuit that will seek to overturn the pension changes, which they say are unconstitutional.
Key changes including raising the retirement age for many state workers and scaling back or skipping annual cost-of-living increases. In return, workers would have to contribute 1 percentage point less toward their retirement. State leaders hope the changes will erase an estimated $100 billion pension shortfall over three decades.
Earlier Friday, Quinn said he supports a review of tax breaks he and lawmakers have granted to nearly a dozen businesses in recent years, saying the state should take a comprehensive look and consider changing how much corporations pay in taxes.
Quinn's comments came after Office Depot chose Florida over Naperville for its headquarters after the Illinois House did not take up special tax breaks the company wanted.
"I don't know if that was good investment in taxpayer money in Illinois, so we were happy that it didn't work out that way," he said.
Twitter @moniquegarciaCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun