CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn suspended Illinois lawmakers’ pay on Wednesday, following through on his warning of consequences if they failed to come up with a solution to the state’s nearly $100 billion pension crisis.
The Chicago Democrat said he used his line-item veto power in a budget bill that was on his desk, and vowed to not accept a salary himself until a deal has been reached. Lawmakers, who receive an annual salary of $68,000 and additional pay for leadership positions, would have to vote to reject his changes if they want to get paid.
Quinn, who has made pension reform his main focus for nearly two years, said he wanted to spur lawmakers into action.
“They must have that alarm bell ringing in their ears, and the best way to do that is to hit them in the wallet,” he said at a news conference in downtown Chicago.
Legislators, whose relationship with the governor has grown increasingly tense in recent weeks, said Quinn’s actions wouldn’t help matters — and could make an already politically difficult situation worse. The Democrat-controlled General Assembly has been unable to agree on how to address pension shortfall, despite years of trying.
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“Instead of giving us leadership on this issue, he’s giving us political games,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, who sits on a bipartisan panel trying to forge a compromise on the issue.
Senate President John Cullerton, also a Chicago Democrat, called it “political grandstanding.”
Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said later Wednesday she’s seeking a legal review to determine whether Quinn’s move is constitutional.
Illinois has nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liability because lawmakers either skipped or shorted payments to the state’s five retirement systems for decades. Inaction on solving the pension problem — the worst of any state in the nation, as measured by a Moody’s rating agency formula that compared liabilities to tax revenue — has led to repeated credit rating downgrades while governors from other states have used it as a basis to poach jobs from Illinois.
Quinn has set numerous hard deadlines, including two special sessions, for lawmakers to resolve the crisis, but none has produced any results. Members of a bipartisan panel charged with finding a compromise blew past another deadline Tuesday, saying they needed more time to crunch numbers and try to work out a deal that can get legislative approval. Quinn had warned there would be consequences for lawmakers although he had not outlined what he planned to do.