Topinka says she must cancel lawmakers’ paychecks - for now

July 26, 2013

(WBEZ/Tony Arnold)
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said Thursday that she doesn’t support stopping lawmakers’ paychecks until pension reform is passed, but her hands are tied legally

Illinois lawmakers will not be getting their paychecks for the month of August. Illinois’ comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka, who issues checks for state employees, said Thursday she will not send them out, per Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto earlier this month.

Quinn said neither he nor lawmakers should receive paychecks until the state addresses its $100 billion pension debt and agrees on a compromise to restructure state employees’ retirement benefits.

“We tried to get as much legal guidance on this as possible so that we knew we would be doing the right thing and following the law exactly and not getting tripped up,” Topinka said at a news conference Thursday.

Topinka said there are conflicting legal opinions between her staff, the governor’s legal team and the Attorney General’s office. But the consensus is that if there is no money appropriated for legislators and the governor, then she can’t legally send out the checks. Topinka was critical of the governor’s idea to stop the paychecks, but said the best way to resolve the matter is either court action or for the legislature to override the governor’s veto of their pay.

“This is no way to run a government,” Topinka said. “Threats, blackmail and inertia may good theater, but it makes us look ridiculous and it takes away from our ability to get things done.”

Lawmakers typically receive their paychecks at the beginning of each month. August’s check is the first skipped check for lawmakers since the governor took action.

Meantime, after the legislature adjourned without agreeing on a pension compromise in May, a committee of five state representatives and five state senators was formed to try to find a new pension reform plan that could get the support of all parties involved.

They continue to meet in private, but they have not issued a timeframe for when a proposal may be released. Some members of the committee have criticized Quinn for trying to rush the process while they were waiting to find out how different plans and how much money each could save the state.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.