By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Gov. Pat Quinn is using his veto power to suspend state lawmakers' paychecks until there's action on Illinois' pension crisis.
"Pension reform is the most critical job for all of us in public office. I cannot in good conscience approve legislation that provides paychecks to legislators who are not doing their job for the taxpayers," Quinn said in a statement.
The budget bill Quinn has changed would give the Illinois comptroller the ability to issue paychecks to state employees. Quinn deleted the part that covers lawmakers' salaries after they missed a July 9 deadline he had set for passing a pension fix. He also pledged to forego his own pay until the pension crisis is solved.
Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka is seeking a clarification on whether Quinn's action is legal.
"Specifically, Section 11 of our state Constitution states that ‘changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.' Therefore, I have requested a legal review which should be completed before lawmakers are scheduled to receive their next paychecks on August 1.," Topinka said.
Illinois has nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liability because lawmakers either skipped or shorted payments to the state's five retirement funds for decades. Inaction has led to repeated credit rating downgrades.
Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, is a member of the joint committee on pension reform that has been meeting for more than a month to craft legislation. She said the group meets next week and is awaiting some actuarial studies on state pensions.
"We need to get this right," Tracy said of pension reform.
"I think we've worked with pretty deliberate speed" of the panel that is scheduled to meet again next week.
"It's just bizarre to me to see how government is operated through publicity stunts and gimmicks," Tracy said.
Senate President John Cullerton said legislators "have worked hard this session" by passing a budget, paying off hundreds of millions of dollars in old bills, cutting their own pay and working to find a pension solution.
"The governor's actions today are as unproductive as yesterday's arbitrary deadline," Cullerton said.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, defended House Democrats, assisted by Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, for passing a pension overhaul that was rejected in the Senate.
"I have been working for many months to pass real, comprehensive pension reform," Madigan said.
"I am hopeful his strategy works" Madigan said of Quinn's amendatory veto.
Lawmakers in the General Assembly make nearly $68,000 a year. Some make additional stipends for leadership positions.
"This is an emergency. The taxpayers of Illinois are waiting and there is no excuse for further legislative delay," Quinn said. "The taxpayers cannot afford an endless cycle of delays, excuses and more delays."
The Associated Press provided information for this story.