SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka called Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to veto the salaries of lawmakers "ridiculous" Thursday but said her hands are tied when it comes to issuing paychecks.
The comptroller, who is in charge of the state's check book, said a legal review of the governor's decision to stop paying the salaries of members of the General Assembly shows the only path to resolution — for now — is through the courts or via an override of Quinn's action.
"At this point in time, the attorney general has advised that these payments cannot be made without an appropriation or court order," Topinka said.
"This is no way to run government," Topinka said. "Threats, blackmail and inertia may be good theater, but it makes us look ridiculous and takes away from our ability to get things done. It is time for leaders to lead."
Quinn earlier this month vetoed money earmarked to pay for the salaries of the 177 members of the Legislature. He said the move was designed to pressure them into reforming the state's underfunded pension systems.
Quinn, who also is asking not to be paid during the pension impasse, said Topinka's decision was the proper one.
"Pension reform is the most urgent priority facing the state of Illinois," Quinn said in a prepared statement. "Nobody should be paid until the job gets done for taxpayers."
Lawmakers have not missed a check yet. They are paid a base salary of $67,836 on a monthly basis. Most receive additional pay for serving in leadership positions or as chairmen of committees.
Topinka said she could issue July paychecks in early August if a judge were to issue an order. Without that, she said she doesn't have the authority to cut the checks.
"It is my deep hope that this matter is resolved expeditiously either by legislative action or court intervention," Topinka said. "Given the serious precedent that is being created, I look forward to receiving additional guidance from the judicial branch."
Lawmakers have been unable to agree on a way to tackle a pension system that is $97 billion out of whack. A bipartisan committee of members of the House and Senate is reviewing various options, including a plan requiring current employees to pay more toward their salaries and reducing cost-of-living increases for current retirees.
The Legislature is not scheduled to return to action until later this fall. Some members of the General Assembly are on an educational outreach tour of Turkey. Others leave this weekend for a similar trip to China.
They could schedule a special session on pension reform for mid-August, when many are in Springfield for the Illinois State Fair.