Gov. Quinn suspends Illinois lawmaker paychecks

Quinn suspends Ill. lawmaker pay over inaction on pension crisis

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (FOX 32 News) -

Gov. Pat Quinn moved to halt Illinois lawmakers' pay Wednesday, following through on his warning of consequences if they failed to come up with a solution to the state's nearly $100 billion pension crisis, the worst of any state nationwide.

The Chicago Democrat said he would use his line-item veto power in a budget bill that's on his desk, also vowing to not accept a salary himself until a deal has been reached. Lawmakers would have to vote to reject his changes if they want to get paid.

Fearing that Quinn was preparing to veto legislators' salaries on Wednesday, the president of the Illinois State Senate had a blunt warning for him: "It doesn't make sense."

Speaking at the State Capitol Tuesday night, Senate President John Cullerton told FOX 32 News that Quinn is wrong when he accuses legislators of "failing to do their jobs."

Cullerton said legislators need more time to resolve the pension crisis.

Cullerton said in a statement released late Wednesday morning that lawmakers worked hard this session – work which he says included passing a balanced budget, paying off hundreds of millions of dollars in old bills, cutting their own pay and numerous, serious bipartisan efforts to enact comprehensive pension reform.

"The governor's actions today are as unproductive as yesterday's arbitrary deadline. Responsible leaders know that unworkable demands will only delay progress," Cullerton continued in the statement. "Our efforts on pensions will continue until we've reached our goal. In the meantime, the work of the pensions conference committee shouldn't be undermined or deterred by today's or future political grandstanding."

In a one-on-one interview last week, the governor told FOX 32 "there would be consequences" for members of the General Assembly if they missed his midnight Tuesday deadline for enacting comprehensive reform of public employee pensions.

A staggering $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities confront Illinois taxpayers. It's the primary reason the state's credit rating is now worse than any other state.

Quinn, who has made pension reform his main focus for nearly two years, said he wanted to spur lawmakers into action.

"They must have that alarm bell ringing in their ears and the best way to do that is to hit them in the wallet," he said at a news conference in downtown Chicago.

Illinois has nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liability because lawmakers either skipped or shorted payments to the state's five retirement systems for decades. Inaction on solving the problem has led to repeated credit rating downgrades while governors from other states have used it as a basis to poach jobs from Illinois.

The budget bill on Quinn's desk gives the Illinois comptroller the ability to issue paychecks to state employees. Lawmakers in the General Assembly make nearly $68,000 a year with some getting additional money for leadership positions. Quinn set numerous hard deadlines, including two special sessions, for lawmakers to resolve the crisis, but none have produced any results. Members of a bipartisan panel charged with finding a compromise blew past another deadline Tuesday. Quinn had warned there would be consequences for lawmakers although he had not outlined what he planned to do.

"I've tried everything in the book to get their attention," he said. "But it's time now for the legislature to legislate."

The lawmakers' next pay checks are due at the end of July, so if they don't act by then they won't get paid.

Quinn said Illinois taxpayers have paid for legislators' lack of action on the pension crisis. Taxpayers had to pay at least $130 million extra in interest payments for a bond sale last month because of the lowered credit ratings.

"I think the taxpayers are on my side here," Quinn said.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan says he understands Quinn's frustration in cutting lawmakers salaries for lack of action on pension reform.

The powerful Madigan seemed to imply he would not allow his House to override Quinn's paycheck veto. The Speaker's daughter, though, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, hinted it might violate the state constitution's ban on unilaterally cutting the pay of elected officials: "The governor's actions raise a series of Constitutional and procedural issues that have never been resolved by the courts. We are studying them."

Despite the veto, sources said State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka may have the power to pay legislators anyway, by moving money from another account.

The president of the State Senate said the governor's paycheck veto would not help the cause of pension reform.

"There's no reason he should expect we're gonna get consensus on a pension bill because he's withholding our salary," John Cullerton said. "It just doesn't make sense."

The governor cut $13.8 million from a budget bill that covers legislators' paychecks. This was the "consequence" Quinn warned of if the Legislature didn't meet Tuesday's deadline to solve the nearly $100 billion debt in the state's public-employee pension program.

Madigan says he warned his House Democrats during the spring session that "doing nothing or passing only a half-measure" was not an answer. He and Senate President John Cullerton passed separate pension plans out of their chambers which didn't get approval from the opposite house.

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley called Quinn's move a "media sideshow."

Daley, a Democrat, says the suspension is getting in the way of solving the worst-in-the-nation pension problem. Daley's created an exploratory committee as he considers whether to run for governor.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Daley says Quinn is "long on press conferences and short on results." He also said the "media sideshow" gets in the way of efforts to solve the state's nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner said Quinn's plan is just "another political stunt."

But Rauner says the state won't be able to solve its worst-in-the-nation pension backlog unless there's "bold leadership that's willing to take on the powerful interests in Springfield."

The venture capitalist also blamed "government union bosses" for the problem.

Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) told FOX 32 accountants and actuaries are currently busy computing how much would be saved by various proposed changes to the pension funds. Raoul, chairman of a bi-partisan conference committee on pension reform, predicted a draft proposal would be ready soon.

While big disagreements remain, Raoul said, the House and Senate would likely convene by mid-August to vote on the proposal.


The bill is HB214.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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