As usual, politicians win, taxpayers lose in legislator pay lawsuit

Jacob Huebert

Senior Attorney at Liberty Justice Center, author of Libertarianism Today.

Jacob Huebert
September 28, 2013

As usual, politicians win, taxpayers lose in legislator pay lawsuit

In July, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn used his line-item veto power to suspend legislators’ salaries, pledging to withhold legislators’ paychecks until they solved the state’s pension problem. But just Thursday, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil H. Cohen ruled that Quinn’s move was unconstitutional. Article IV, Section 11, of the Illinois Constitution prohibits any “changes” to...

In July, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn used his line-item veto power to suspend legislators’ salaries, pledging to withhold legislators’ paychecks until they solved the state’s pension problem.

But just Thursday, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil H. Cohen ruled that Quinn’s move was unconstitutional. Article IV, Section 11, of the Illinois Constitution prohibits any “changes” to legislators’ pay during their terms in office and, according to Judge Cohen’s ruling, that means they must be paid their full salaries on time. The judge also ordered that legislators receive interest on top of the paychecks they missed.

Unless Quinn appeals, which he threatened to do, the ruling puts an end to the lawsuit brought against Quinn by House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

So what did Quinn’s move accomplish? Nothing really. It didn’t help fix the pension problem; the General Assembly appears to be no closer to passing the changes needed for real reform than it was in July, and Quinn did not take the opportunity to propose a solution of his own.

Instead, Quinn provoked a lawsuit that will likely cost taxpayers many thousands of dollars the state cannot afford and does not have — and that will line the pockets of politically-connected lawyers.

Madigan and Cullerton brought the lawsuit to restore legislator pay using private attorneys who, as “special assistant attorneys general,” will be paid by taxpayers under a contract with the state that pays them a rate of $200 an hour. Their team included Chicago attorneys Richard Prendergast, Kevin Forde and Michael Kasper. Quinn also hired a private Chicago attorney, Steven Pflaum, whose bills also will be paid by taxpayers.

It is interesting, if not surprising, to note that Prendergast has contributed thousands of dollars to Cullerton’s election campaign committee, and both Forde and Kasper have made political donations to Madigan.

In sum, the results of Quinn’s veto and Madigan and Cullerton’s lawsuit are that Quinn gets undeserved political points, legislators get their pay plus interest, and Madigan, Quinn and Cullerton’s lawyer friends make money, while taxpayers foot the bill for all of it and get nothing in return. In other words, the entire exercise was exactly what one would expect from this cast of characters: Illinois politics as usual.

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