Illinois governor suspends legislator pay over pension impasse

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2013 6:53 PM
Illinois governor suspends legislator pay over pension impasse

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The fight over fixing Illinois' pension liability has come down to this: Unable to forge a plan to solve the state's $100 billion pension underfunding, the governor is suspending legislators' $68,000-a-year paychecks.

Governor Pat Quinn on Wednesday used his line-item veto to eliminate salaries for state lawmakers from the fiscal 2014 budget. If the salaries indeed are cut, the move saves the state $1.15 million a month.

Quinn, a Democrat, said he is also suspending his own salary until a pension bill hits his desk.

The governor said lawmakers have pushed the state into a crisis by failing to resolve the public pension liability that has driven Illinois' credit rating to the lowest level among U.S. states.

Illinois lawmakers receive an annual salary of $67,836 in 2013, plus $111 per day to cover expenses when the legislature is in session, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Senate President John Cullerton, a fellow Democrat, took Quinn to task, saying the work of a special legislative conference committee seeking a compromise solution on pensions should not be undermined or deterred by political grandstanding.

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said she requested a review by her legal staff of Quinn's action.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office is closely looking at Quinn's move, according to spokeswoman Natalie Bauer.

"The governor's actions raise a series of constitutional and procedural issues that have never been resolved by the courts," she said.

Madigan, the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, is considered a possible Democratic challenger to Quinn in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Speaker Madigan responded to Quinn's salary cut by taking credit for his chamber's passage in May of a comprehensive pension fix.

The provisions included setting a cap on salaries used to determine pensions, limits to cost-of-living adjustments and other changes. The Madigan bill went down to overwhelming defeat in the Senate.

"The governor's decision follows my efforts and I understand his frustration. I am hopeful his strategy works," Madigan said in a statement.

The state Senate did pass a pension fix supported by public labor unions, but Madigan never brought that proposal for a House vote, and the spring legislative session ended on May 31.

State Senator Bill Brady, a member of the conference committee and a Republican candidate for governor, said Quinn has not presented a detailed pension proposal.

"The conference committee needs to meet tomorrow and the governor needs to be at that meeting. He needs to personally attend and present a detailed plan instead of sending a proxy in his place," Brady said. Quinn did not appear at Monday's committee meeting, sending his budget director instead.

Some lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly have complained that Quinn has been ineffective in forging compromises on important matters, such as pensions and the concealed carrying of handguns. After failing to play a central role in pension reform negotiations during the legislative session, Quinn has scrambled in recent weeks to be seen as a leader in the effort.

Legislators left the capitol on Tuesday after overriding Quinn's veto of the gun legislation. Even though the governor had set a Tuesday deadline to enact a comprehensive pension measure, they took no action on pension reform after the conference committee made it clear on Monday that it needed more time.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; editing by David Greising, Dan Grebler, Kenneth Barry and Phil Berlowitz)