CHICAGO – Arguments in a lawsuit over Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to cut legislators' pay will have a hearing in mid-September, meaning lawmakers could miss another paycheck if they don't agree on a solution for Illinois' pension crisis.
Cook County Circuit Judge Neil H. Cohen said Tuesday oral arguments will be presented Sept. 18 for the lawsuit filed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. They're trying to force Quinn and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to issue paychecks.
Last month, Quinn cut $13.8 million for legislators' pay from the state budget after threatening there'd be consequences if they didn't address the state's nearly $100 billion unfunded pension liability.
Madigan and Cullerton filed their lawsuit last week. In a motion for a preliminary injunction filed Monday, they called Quinn's actions "a coercive misuse of the line-item veto" and said allowing it would set a bad precedent.
"In this case ... what is at stake is the very independence of the legislature, a co-equal branch of government, and the preservation of the separation of powers," the motion states.
The motion asks the court to decide if Quinn's line-item veto really did fully eliminate lawmakers' salaries. If not, the leaders argue, Topinka should be required to pay those salaries. As an alternative, if the judge upholds Quinn's amendatory veto, the motion asks the court to rule Quinn's action unconstitutional and to order Topinka to pay lawmakers' salaries.
Topinka, who is named as a defendant in the suit, has said she had no choice but to withhold lawmaker paychecks, citing a previous court case.
Quinn attended Tuesday's hearing and said afterward that his move was constitutional and the outcome of the lawsuit would be a "landmark" case.
Lawmakers could override Quinn's veto with a three-fifths vote in both chambers. But Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, said after the hearing that he'd prefer to see them find a solution for the pension crisis, which he called "a cloud over our economy."
"The best way to settle the case in this matter is for the Legislature to start moving on pension reform," Quinn said.
Illinois' five public pension funds are about $97 billion short of what's needed to pay benefits as currently promised to workers and retirees – a shortfall caused largely because for years legislators voted to not make the state's full annual contribution. Quinn has been pressing lawmakers to come up with a fix, but they have been unable to agree on a solution.
In June, lawmakers voted to create a 10-member bipartisan committee that's trying to come up with a new plan. Any legislation they propose would have to be approved by both chambers.
Base pay for lawmakers is $67,836, though many earn more through stipends from serving in leadership posts or on committees. Legislators already have missed one paycheck, which would have been issued Aug. 1.