CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to halt state lawmakers' pay over the state's pension crisis is unconstitutional and the Chicago Democrat must move to reinstate salaries immediately, a Cook County judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Neil Cohen issued his eight-page decision in a lawsuit brought by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. Cohen said Quinn did not have the power to withhold pay while lawmakers were serving their current terms. Quinn must order Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to restore salaries, with interest, immediately.
"(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."
Quinn's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
In July, Quinn used his line-item veto to cut money for legislators' salaries from the state budget because they hadn't fixed Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis, the worst in the nation. Illinois lawmakers have already missed two paychecks and were set to miss a third next week.
But Madigan and Cullerton contended Quinn's actions were unconstitutional and violated the state's separations of powers.
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 said he had the authority to veto the salaries and that the lawsuit was premature. 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.
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