Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Cutting Off Legislators' Pay Violates System of Checks and Balances

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday he will suspend state lawmakers' pay after they missed the Tuesday deadline to deliver state pension reform. (Published Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013)

    Gov. Pat Quinn is trying to apply Squeezy the Pension Python to legislators’ salaries, by cutting off their pay until they pass what he calls “comprehensive pension reform.”

    “For the last two budget years, we’ve struggled to enact pension reform,” Quinn said at a press conference this morning. “The legislature has had many opportunities in the last two years to act. They have failed repeatedly. The legislators should not get paid until they enact comprehensive pension reform.”
    Quinn insists it’s all legal. As governor, he has a line-item veto on appropriations. Quinn also cited the case of Quinn v. Donnewald -- in which he was the losing party. In his gadfly days, Quinn went to court against State Treasurer James Donnewald to argue that the Compensation Review Board, which sets legislators’ salaries, was unconstitutional, because it removed the power to determine public salaries from the General Assembly. The Supreme Court ruled against Quinn, and now he’s using that decision to justify his garnishment of legislators’ wages.
    Whether or not Quinn’s action is allowable under the letter of the law, it violates the spirit of constitutional government. The executive and the legislature are designed to be co-equal branches of government. If Quinn can cut off legislators’ salaries for refusing to pass pension reform, any governor can use that threat to extract anything he wants from an uncooperative General Assembly. Quinn is setting a terrible precedent, and using the cloak of populism to arrogate himself powers he was never intended to wield.
    “Up until now, the only ones who’ve had to pay have been the taxpayers of Illinois,” he said, citing higher interest rates resulting from credit downgrades. “Up until now, legislators have not had to pay.”
    A governor who has the power of the purse over the legislature would throw the entire system of checks and balances out of whack. In fact, the governor is supposed to be subservient to the General Assembly, a body more representative of the people. The General Assembly can impeach the governor, but the governor can’t fire individual legislators. He shouldn’t be able to cut off their pay, either.

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