Legal Questions Raised After Quinn's Budget Veto

Jul 11, 2013

Legal questions surround Governor Pat Quinn's move to suspend pay for Illinois lawmakers. On Wednesday, he vetoed that portion of the state budget.

It's an unprecedented decision. However, some say it's similar to action taken by Quinn's predecessor, Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn says the lawmakers shouldn't receive their paychecks until they approve a pension overhaul. He says they've letdown Illinois taxpayers buy not taking action. The General Assembly would have to approve his budget change.

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka signs the state's paychecks.  Shortly after Quinn's budget veto, Topinka called for a legal review. Topinka says she wants an answer before she's due to send out the next set of checks, August 1st.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office says it's taking an informal look at various  - and at times conflicting - provisions of state law. Spokeswoman Natalie Bauer says there's a lot to consider.

"Based on our initial review, the Governor's actions raise a series of constitutional and procedural issues that have never been resolved by the courts at this point" Bauer said.

In 2003, former Governor Blagojevich tried - and failed - to strip lawmakers and judges of their pay raises.  The Illinois Supreme Court cited a part of the Constitution that says judicial salaries can't be reduced midterm. 

Political theater

Meanwhile, a noted expert on Illinois government calls Quinn’s decision “symbolic politics.” John Jackson is with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.  He says the Governor’s power-play is pure theater and will do little to influence the General Assembly.   

Jackson says the state needs a governor who is engaged in the legislative process, and for whatever reason he says Quinn is not.

"Clearly he's not gotten down to the the legislative process and the day to day making of the sausage the way some governors do. George Ryan was actually the best we've probably ever had at doing that and Jim Thomspon was very, very good at that" Jackson said.

Jackson says the move will put more strain on the relationship between the governor and the legislature.