Cook County judge orders state to pay Ill. lawmakers

Cook County judge orders state to pay Ill. lawmakers

Posted: Updated:
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A Cook County judge ruled Gov. Pat Quinn's maneuver to withhold Illinois lawmakers' pay over pensions unconstitutional and said their salaries must be reinstated.

Judge Neil Cohen ordered Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to pay them immediately - with interest.

The governor used his line-item veto to cut the money used to pay legislators' salaries from the state budget in July, when the General Assembly failed to agree on a plan to solve Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis. It's the worst in the nation.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued to get their salaries back soon afterward, saying that Quinn's actions were unconstitutional and violated the state's separation of powers. They asked a judge to order paychecks be issued. Quinn called the suit premature.

Judge Cohen issued his eight-page decision in the lawsuit Thursday afternoon, writing that the Illinois constitution explicitly states lawmakers' pay cannot be changed during their term of service.

"(The) Illinois Constitution grants the governor authority to reduce items of appropriation," Cohen wrote. "The governor cannot, however, exercise his authority in a manner which violates another constitutional provision."

Illinois lawmakers have already missed two paychecks and were set to miss a third next week.

Quinn's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last week, Cohen heard arguments in court where Madigan and Cullerton's attorney, Richard Prendergast, called Quinn's veto "an unprecedented attempt" to fulfill his goals through coercion.

Quinn has said that if legislators want to be paid, they could return to Springfield and vote to override the veto - a move Quinn has acknowledged could be unpopular with voters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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