Earlier this month, the governor of Illinois did something that many people wish could happen to the United States as a whole. He issued an order holding the paychecks of all Illinois lawmakers until they do something to address the $97 billion pension shortfall. He also suspended his own pay.
Cutting the pay of lawmakers is an oft-heard fantasy in America. Polls show overwhelmingly that Americans believe that the current incarnation of Congress has done very little to earn their pay. But what seemingly can not be done at the Federal level, Governor Pat Quinn has done at the state level in Illinois.
And despite objections, it appears to be sticking.
According to Chicago Business, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said Thursday that she will not be cutting checks for those lawmakers, in keeping with the governor's orders. Some lawmakers had complained that the Illinois state constitution, while allowing for pay raises and cuts to legislator pay, also required that the changes not take place within an individual term. They had to wait until the next term to take effect. The governor had a response to that.
He wasn't lowering pay. He was holding it. Legislators will get their full checks. Just not until they get in and do something about the situation at hand.
Governor Quinn used a line item veto in a budget bill to halt the pay.
"Nobody should be paid until the job gets done for taxpayers," Quinn said.
Because lawmakers had skipped or cut payments to pensions for decades, Quinn has made the pension crisis his top priority for years, with little result. Now he is carrying a big stick. Illinois lawmakers get an annual salary of $65,000, plus more for leadership positions. Until they run something through court to get their pay released – a move sure to ring badly with voters – or they address the pension problem, they'll see none of it.