Illinois lawmakers woke up today to find their monthly paychecks were not deposited into their bank accounts, a punishment from Gov. Pat Quinn for failing to send him a measure to overhaul the state's troubled public employee pension system.
Quinn used his veto powers last month to eliminate $13.8 million from the budget set aside for legislative salaries, arguing that lawmakers aren't doing their jobs and therefore shouldn't be paid.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued, contending that Quinn's move undermines the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. They've asked a Cook County judge to reverse Quinn's action and grant an injunction ordering the comptroller's office to cut the checks — with interest.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Neil Cohen, but an initial court date is not scheduled until November. That is likely to change, however, and the case could come up as early as next week.
In the meantime, Quinn said he has little sympathy for lawmakers who might be struggling to make ends meet. Legislators should be spending their time working toward a pension deal, not worrying about their pay, he said.
"I don't know why they are going to a courthouse, if they don't like what I did, they should go to Springfield to our state Capitol and take a vote," Quinn said at an unrelated event Wednesday. "Legislators have to put aside their own paycheck concerns and put the concerns, the economic concerns of the people, first and foremost."
Lawmakers on a committee formed to break the pension impasse contend that Quinn's decision to withhold pay is a populist move aimed at appealing to voters as he prepares for re-election and say it does nothing to help negotiations. Quinn, whose salary is $177,412 a year, has said he will voluntarily give up his pay until the pension issue is resolved.
Meanwhile, the judge who will oversee the paycheck dispute is no stranger to Democratic politics. Cohen, a former Cook County prosecutor who was appointed an associate judge in 2009, is married to Susan Sher, the former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama.
Together, Cohen and Sher have donated more than $81,000 to candidates in various state and federal races since 1996, according to public records. For state races, Cohen primarily gave to candidates seeking the bench, though he did contribute a total of $3,000 to former state Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston, who now serves as Quinn's director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Hamos' husband is Alan Greiman, a former state appellate judge.
Sher, meanwhile, has contributed $250 to Cullerton, $400 to Speaker Madigan and $3,500 to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker's daughter.
The legislative leaders have requested that an outside counsel represent them instead of lawyers on the attorney general's staff. Quinn said Wednesday that he was in discussions with the attorney general's office about whether a staff attorney would defend the state or if it would be better to hire an outside attorney.
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