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Judge gives himself a week to rule on veto of state legislative salaries

Gov. PQuinn. File Photo

Gov. Pat Quinn. File Photo

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Updated: October 20, 2013 7:40AM

A Cook County judge said he’ll decide by next week whether to undo Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto this summer of lawmakers’ salaries.

Associate Judge Neil H. Cohen heard nearly two hours of arguments Wednesday from lawyers for the governor, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

The judge, who said he’d rule by Sept. 26, asked the lawyers about limits on the governor’s veto power, took Topinka’s lawyer to task about her decision to stop paying lawmakers, and questioned whether Quinn even vetoed the salaries correctly.

Lawyers for Madigan and Cullerton say Quinn — who was in the courtroom and avoided reporters after the hearing — left nearly $12 million meant for lawmakers in the appropriations bill.

“Doesn’t that mean that they get it?” Cohen said.

The governor’s lawyer said no — that it hasn’t been appropriated properly.

And ultimately, Quinn’s attorney Steven Pflaum said the General Assembly has the power to resolve the case simply by voting to override the governor’s veto.

Quinn claims he vetoed the salaries on behalf of taxpayers after lawmakers failed to meet a July 9 deadline to deal with Illinois’ continued $100 billion pension liability.

Madigan and Cullerton say Quinn’s veto of lawmakers’ pay — including their base salaries worth $67,836 — is unconstitutional and compromises the independence of the Legislature.

And while the governor’s lawyers argue the case doesn’t belong in a courtroom until lawmakers vote to override, even his legal team has acknowledged in court papers “there may be understandable political reasons” for them not to do so.

Basically, it’s a risky move for legislators facing re-election.

Cohen made clear at Wednesday’s hearing he’s not interested in the politics, though. And he used Quinn’s arguments against Topinka lawyer Brent Stratton.

If the legislative process has yet to play out as the governor argues, Cohen asked, why would Topinka stop paying Illinois’ General Assembly before it was complete?

“Why did your client treat it as law?” Cohen said.

Stratton said the comptroller hadn’t before dealt with such a situation and didn’t know whether it was law or not. It was, he said, a “gray area.”


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