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Top Illinois lawmakers sue Gov. Quinn over pay freeze

FILE: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks at a news conference in Chicago.AP

The top state lawmakers in Illinois are suing Gov. Pat Quinn after he halted the salaries of legislators because of their failure to find a solution to the state's $100 billion pension crisis.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Democrats, filed the 12-page complaint with the Circuit Court of Cook County Tuesday, calling Quinn's actions "purely political and unconstitutional."

"This matter is of fundamental constitutional importance, as Governor Quinn's action threatens the independence of each branch of government," Cullerton and Madigan said in a joint news release. "The Illinois Constitution protects the salaries of members of the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive branch."

Quinn cut $13.8 million for lawmakers' paychecks in the state budget through his veto power earlier this month after threatening consequences if they failed to act promptly on addressing the pension problem. When members of a bipartisan pension panel blew past another deadline the Chicago Democrat had set, he cut their salaries.

Quinn responded Tuesday saying the lawsuit is "just plain wrong. He added if lawmakers had put in that much effort into overhauling Illinois' pension mess, there could've been reform by now.

"Legislators should not be rewarded for an endless cycle of promises, excuses, delay and inertia on the pension problem," the statement continued. "They don't get paid if they don't do their jobs. And neither should members of the General Assembly."

Quinn had previously defended the move as constitutional. Last week Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said she had no choice but to withhold lawmaker paychecks, citing a previous court case. Quinn's office had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

In their statement, Cullerton and Madigan called Quinn's actions "an unconstitutional attempt to coerce the Legislature to comply with his demands."

They said that to ignore the governor's actions or override the veto would "severely and irrevocably compromise the independence of the Legislature and set a very dangerous precedent."

Bill Daley, President Obama's former Chief of Staff who on Monday declared he will run for governor agreed, referring to the Quinn's act as a "side show" that is "hurting our school kids and stands in the way of creating jobs."

Illinois has unprecedented pension debt because for years lawmakers have either skipped or shorted payments to the state's five retirement systems. Quinn has made reforming the system his top priority for about two years, but attempts to find a solution have largely gone nowhere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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