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Why Lawmakers Want to Settle Salary Dispute in Court
House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are scheduled to present their case on September 18 in a lawsuit to force the Comptroller's office to write their paychecks.
Gov. Pat Quinn used his line item veto to remove their salaries from a budget appropriations bill in July, after lawmakers failed to pass pension reform by a deadline set by the governor.
The case may have bigger ramifications than to simply solve this one disagreement.
Quinn repeatedly said he suspended the salaries until lawmakers put a pension reform bill on his desk.
"That is not correct," UIS Political Science Professor Kent Redfield said. "The governor did not suspend the lawmakers' pay. The governor used his line item veto to remove the appropriation, so there is no spending authority in the law as it currently exists."
The governor can't undo that veto.
Redfield said the only ways lawmakers get their checks is by overriding Quinn's veto, passing a new appropriation bill, or winning their lawsuit.
"This is about a pension issue that's a big deal," Redfield said. "But there is an underlying principle about separation of powers, in terms of the way we structure the American political system that is more important in terms of this case."
Maintaining that separation of powers is why many lawmakers want this issue settled in court.
"And the main reason is, if we don't settle it and find out if it's constitutional or not, I think the governor would try to govern by using vetoes all the time," Republican Rep. Raymond Poe said. "And we would have to continually come back to override, and every time we come back to town, I think that's wasting taxpayers' money."
Redfield worries that could create a tit for tat situation between the General Assembly and the governor.
"The legislature passes a gambling bill, sends it to the governor and says, 'Oh by the way, we haven't appropriated any money for your salary for the next year. Why don't you get back to us when you sign this bill and we'll think about appropriating money,'" Redfield said.
In this case, Redfield believes judicial precedent is on the side of lawmakers.
"You never know, exactly," Redfield said. "Courts overturn precedents all the time. And so we're in a situation that's very unfortunate, because it would create a constitutional crisis that really wasn't necessary."
Reporting in Springfield, Mike Brooks, ABC NewsChannel 20.