By Jamey Dunn
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said today that without intervention from lawmakers or a judge, she cannot pay legislators.
Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the money for lawmakers pay earlier this month, saying that they would not get their paychecks until they pass “comprehensive” changes to public employee pension systems. Topinka, who is responsible for cutting checks for the state, sought a legal opinions on whether Quinn could eliminate lawmakers’ wages.
She said there were “conflicting” opinions among her legal team, but Attorney General Lisa Madigan advised Topinka that she cannot issue checks unless legislators vote to override the veto or a judge orders her to pay up.
Lawmakers are due to be paid again on August 1. Quinn has also asked that he not be paid. Topinka said the opinion is based on the case of AFSCME v. Netsch, in which a court ruled that the comptroller could not pay state workers without an appropriation. “This situation is different in that it involves two coequal branches of government,” Topinka said at a Chicago news conference today. “The distinction may well be considered by the court down the line, but at this point and time, the attorney general has advised that these payments cannot be made without an appropriation or a court order. Those are the only two ways we can do this.”
Topinka said she hopes the situation comes to a quick resolution because she believes Quinn’s veto sets a “serious precedent.” While Topinka can do nothing about Quinn’s move, she said she disagrees with it. “I think we’re on some really dangerous ground here,” she said. “This is no way to run a government. Threats of blackmail and inertia may be good theater, but it makes us look ridiculous and it takes away from our ability to get things done. So I think it’s time for leaders to lead.”
Quinn told reporters in Chicago today that he had no doubts that he has the authority to use a line item veto to remove lawmakers’ pay from the state budget. “It’s crystal clear the governor has this authority,” he said. “They’re not going to get paid until they enact fundamental pension reform, and I’m not going to take a salary either.”
However, Quinn cannot just undo the veto if lawmakers pass a pension bill. They would have to vote to override his veto, which Quinn has said they will have “his blessing” to do once a pension plan is on his desk. Of course, they could opt to vote on their pay before that time, or any member of the legislature could sue and let the courts sort it out.
Members of the conference committee that is working to craft a pension bill that can pass in both chambers told the State Journal-Register this week that they may not have a proposal ready until mid-August. “It feels like weeks left,” said Northbrook Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz.
“I would hope that they could move with dispatch, but I understand their need to study everything they’ve got to study,” Quinn said today. “The bottom line is, we’ve got to get this done, and no one in the legislature is going to get paid unless they get the job done when it comes to pensions.”