Illinois lawmakers to miss paychecks over pensions

Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 8:50 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers were set to lose their paychecks Thursday barring a court's intervention, but there still appeared to be no end in sight to a stalemate over the state's $100 billion pension mess that prompted Gov. Pat Quinn to withhold their salaries.

Members of the eight-member bipartisan pension committee say they are several weeks away from presenting a plan to fix the state's worst-in-the nation $100 billion unfunded pension liability.

State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she will have no choice but to withhold paychecks 177 lawmakers were set to receive Thursday. Quinn used the line-item veto of a budget bill to eliminate legislative salaries in apparent retaliation for their inaction on pension reform.

Legislative leaders have filed a lawsuit asking a court to issue the paychecks Thursday as scheduled, but by late Wednesday there was no signal that the court would intervene.

Baar Topinka said she also would be withholding Quinn's paycheck, per his request. However, because of the way Quinn changed the bill, his salary could be restored at any time, she said. Lawmakers would have to return to session to reinstate their pay, and even then Quinn could use his veto pen to eliminate it again.

Speaking at an event Wednesday, Quinn declined to elaborate on why he chose to eliminate lawmaker salaries but not his own.

"I think what I did was the appropriate way to go," he said.

Pension committee members said they are still waiting on savings estimates as they prepare a proposal developed by the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs and touted by several of the state's university presidents.

While Quinn has mused about the idea of a special session dealing with pension reform around the time of the Illinois State Fair in mid-August, committee member Mike Zalewski said it would be difficult to have something to show by then.

"Calling a special session the week of the fair when we haven't completed our work doesn't make any sense," said Zalewski, D-Riverside. "It'd be better for us to conclude our work and present it to the two chambers and say we really stand behind what we accomplish here."

Zalewski said he hasn't gotten any calls from colleagues concerned about the length of the process affecting their pay schedules.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said committee members, who have not met formally in the last week, speak by phone on a daily basis. He said he has also been meeting with union members and state employees that would be affected by any pension reform plan.

Like Zalweski, Raoul said the work shouldn't be rushed.

"I'm not into predicting timelines," Raoul said. "I think that's the same mistake that led to their now being a lawsuit. That an arbitrary deadline was set that that was not at all scientific."

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Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this report from Chicago.

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