CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — A Cook County judge ruled Thursday that Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to halt lawmaker pay over the pension crisis is unconstitutional, and he ordered Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to pay them immediately.
Judge Neil Cohen says the state Constitution makes it clear that lawmakers' pay can't be changed while serving their terms.
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.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued, saying Quinn's actions were unconstitutional and violated the state's separation of powers.
They asked a judge to order paychecks be issued.
"Today the circuit court vindicated the Illinois Constitution as Judge Cohen ruled to protect and preserve the separation of powers," Cullerton said in a statement. "Now that the governor's actions have been answered by a court, I trust that we can put aside all distractions and focus on the goal of pension reform.
"Pension reform remains our top priority. Even while this case was pending, the legislature never stopped working on this issue.
"I applaud the progress of the pension conference committee as its members shape a pension plan that maximizes our savings and upholds a fundamental standard of fairness."
Quinn said he would appeal the decision. His administration filed an emergency motion asking the judge's ruling to be delayed. A hearing was set for Friday morning.
"On behalf of Illinois taxpayers, I intend to appeal the decision and seek a court stay that would prevent any legislative paychecks from being issued until this case is considered by a higher court," the governor said in a statement.
"However, this case is about far more than just the Governor's constitutional authority to suspend the appropriations for legislative paychecks.
"The reason I suspended legislative paychecks in the first place – and refused to accept my own – is because Illinois taxpayers can't afford an endless cycle of promises, excuses, delays and inertia on the most critical challenge of our time.
"Illinois' pension crisis is costing taxpayers millions of dollars a day; robbing our children of the education and public safety services they desperately need; and holding our economy back from real recovery.
"I will not accept a paycheck until a comprehensive pension reform bill is on my desk, and neither should legislators.
"Nobody in Springfield should get paid until the pension reform job gets done."
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