Illinois Senate President John Cullerton speaks to reporters after a meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan, right, Monday, June 10, 2013, in Chicago where they discussed how to solve the state's nearly $100 billion pension crisis.
Two of the state's top lawmakers want their money, and they're suing to get it.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat Quinn, alleging the veto power he used earlier this month to suspend lawmakers' pay was unconstitutional.
"Just as the Illinois Constitution of 1970 protects the right of each judge to receive a salary and not have their salary reduced during their term of office, the Constitution also requires that each legislator receive a salary and prohibits 'changes' in the salaries of legislators during their terms of office," the pair said in a lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Cook County Court.
The lawsuit also names Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka as a defendant. She said paychecks to tens of thousands of state employees were ready but couldn't be sent until Quinn signed off on them.
She expressed hope last week that the matter would be resolved "expeditiously" and said government shouldn't be run through threats and blackmail.
Quinn said his move to suspend pay -- even his own -- was a consequence for lawmakers' failure to address the state's $97 billion pension shortfall.
He said Madigan and Cullerton's lawsuit was "just plain wrong," and took issue with the fact that the lawmakers, who have different ideas on how to solve the pension problem, could come together to sue him.
"If legislators had put forth the same effort to draw up a pension reform agreement that they did in crafting this lawsuit, pension reform could have been done by now," he said in a written statement.
But Madigan and Cullerton say Quinn's veto action "threatens the independence of each branch of government."
"By eliminating General Assembly members' salaries, the Governor has chosen to disregard separation of power and its necessity if our government is to work properly and efficiently," they said.
State funds are paying for the lawsuit, a move that's permissable under state law, Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said via email.
"It's filed in their official capacities so state funds are allowed," she said. "Legal fees/bills are capped for that reason."
Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who earlier in the day made official his campaign to challenge Quinn, called the governor's action a "side show" that is "doing nothing to end the pension crisis that is hurting our school kids and stands in the way of creating jobs." He added that Quinn's action is "likely unconstitutional."
Lawmakers are paid once per month. The next paychecks were scheduled to go out on Aug. 1. The yearly base pay for lawmakers is $67,836. Stipends range between $10,000 and $27,000.
To solve the pension problem, Madigan has endorsed a plan that would unilaterally impose pension changes on retired state workers, including increasing the retirement age. Cullerton's Senate supports a union-backed plan that would give retirees options over pension benefits. Many argue it would not save the state as much money as the plan Madigan supports. However, advocates for the Senate plan argue it is more likely to survive an expected legal challenge, since negotiated retirement benefits are currently protected by the state constitution.