Gov. Pat Quinn's grandstanding on the legislative salary issue has run into a roadblock.
The people of Illinois can breathe a sigh of relief — our state legislators are flush once again.
They can stop selling apples on street corners. They can put away the signs that read, "Will take bribes for food." They can abandon their half-hearted searches for honest work.
Having received back pay from August and September plus another paycheck today, members of the Illinois House and Senate can resume singing "we're in the money" as they continue to refute the old saw that there is no free lunch. Sure, there is — but you have to be connected.
The windfall comes courtesy of last week's decision by a Chicago judge that Gov. Quinn engaged in an unconstitutional abuse of his power when he vetoed an appropriation for legislative salaries and promised that they would not be paid until they act on pension reform.
That was back in August. Legislators still haven't acted on pensions, but their leaders were quick to run to court in search of a friendly judge to collect their pay.
Associate Judge Neil Cohen filled the bill perfectly, holding that Quinn's decision violates an Illinois constitutional provision that bans "changes" in legislators' pay during their terms in office. He found that "changes" means increases or decreases in pay.
Actually, Quinn wasn't decreasing legislators' pay so much as he was delaying it. He said they'd be paid once they had done their jobs on pensions. Quinn also said he, too, would not accept his pay.
As lawsuits go, this was one of the more distasteful in a while. It's too bad both sides couldn't have lost.
Gov. Quinn was doing more of his political grandstanding when he announced the withholding of legislative pay. He thought he would make himself look good at the expense of legislators' by appealing to the public's unhappiness with the General Assembly.
Legislators understandably resented Quinn's decision. But fearing public reaction by convening in Springfield and voting to overturn the governor's veto, they found Cohen instead.
Whether Cohen's decision stands on appeal remains to be seen. It may well; the judiciary in Illinois, unfortunately, is highly politicized, and this has been a political dispute from start to finish.
In our opinion, however, the judge's ruling was ill-advised for a couple of reasons.
This was a classic dispute over the separation of powers that required no judicial intervention, at least not in this early stage.
The governor's power to veto legislation or appropriations should not be subject to encroachment; at the same time, the legislature's power to override vetoes also is unlimited. This kind of showdown was contemplated by the drafters of the Illinois Constitution and a solution was provided — the veto override process. If the General Assembly was unhappy with the governor's veto, it knows what it can do.
By butting in when it was not necessary, Judge Cohen laid the groundwork for more judicial mischief in the future, not just in executive/legislative disputes but in other political face-offs. The legislative process could easily have worked this non-problem out, and it should have been allowed to do so. Judges do not have to solve every dispute, and it's a mistake for them to try.