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By Mike Sandrolini
December 16, 2016
PROVISO | A group of six Democratic state representatives, including 7th District Rep. Chris Welch, filed a lawsuit earlier this month in Cook County against now-former state Comptroller
Leslie Munger in an effort to collect pay that Munger has withheld from lawmakers since June due to the budget crisis.
In addition to Welch, the group that filed the lawsuit includes Rep. Lisa Hernandez of Cicero; three representatives from Chicago—Mary Flowers, Sonya Harper and Silvana Tabares;
and Rep. Kate Cloonen, of Kankakee, who will be leaving office in January after losing her election last month.
Back in April, Munger announced that legislators’ pay would be withheld because she believed that due to the state’s backlog of bills (estimated to be more than $10 billion) it was not fair they
should be paid until businesses and nonprofits who have contracts with the state are paid first. Lawmakers receive a base salary of $67,836, but can earn more by, for example, by
serving as chairmen of legislative committees or in leadership positions.
The lawsuit counters that not paying lawmakers is politically motivated and illegal because it violates the Illinois Constitution which states that legislators are to be paid in monthly
The following statement was issued by Welch on behalf of the lawmakers who filed suit on Dec. 2: “The decision by multimillionaire Comptroller Leslie Munger and billionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner was a thinly veiled attempt to force their political opponents into taking positions in support of the governor’s positions and against the beliefs of their constituents,” Welch
said. “Many lawmakers don’t have the multimillion dollar side incomes the governor and comptroller enjoy.”
In an interview with the West Suburban Journal last week, Welch added, “I think politics prompted it. I believe Leslie Munger acted at the direction of Gov. Rauner in order to exercise undue influence on a separate but equal branch of government. “I believe they were trying to starve members into bankruptcy to try to force them to vote for things that they don’t support. I
believe it was an abuse of power; I believe it’s unconstitutional and after six months of ignoring paydays, enough was enough. It was time to do something.”
Munger, who lost to Democrat Susana Mendoza in the November election, noted that the lawsuit was filed on her last day in office (Dec. 2) and called it “cowardly.”
In a press release issued on Dec. 5, Rauner blasted the lawsuit, saying, “This lawsuit is a stunning reminder of why we need change in Springfield. Only in Illinois would politicians who have failed to pass a balanced budget and reforms put their own personal gain before taxpayers and critical human services.” Munger dismissed Welch calling both him and the other
lawmakers who filed suit cowardly.
“I don’t believe the suit is cowardly,” he said. “I believe it is courageous. It isn’t a popular thing today. People could care less if we legislators get paid or not. But it’s the right thing to do
because we have to stand up for the Constitution. You have to understand that this is a constitutional issue. If we are to ignore the Constitution on this issue, what are we supposed to not ignore the Constitution on?
“Today it’s the legislators, but when the governor ignores the Constitution to come after other people, are we supposed to ignore that issue as well? This is about protecting and preserving the Constitution. To prevent a billionaire from becoming a dictator.”
Welch said filing the lawsuit isn’t about him; it’s about every member of the General Assembly. He added that he has received several calls and text messages from both Democratic and Republican colleagues in the State Legislature thanking him for “taking the lead on this issue.”
“There are members who are having problems getting their mortgage payments paid, getting refinanced for their mortgages, getting qualified for mortgages, paying student loans,” he said. “They have no income coming in. We’re going to work every day, we’re showing up to work every day, we’re driving back and forth to Springfield, putting gas in our cars, paying for hotels. We’re not getting paid, and this is a hardship for many members.”
Welch noted specific language in the state Constitution regarding lawmakers’ pay, cited in the lawsuit, that is being ignored.
“There’s separation of powers, that we are an equal branch of government, and neither branch of government can insert undue power on each other,” he said.
“Another section of the Constitution spells out different officers of the state, one being the comptroller, and what her duties are. And then there’s a section that specifically states one of her (Munger’s) duties (was) to pay the members of the legislative branch in 12 equal installments at least monthly—it can be more frequent but at least monthly.
In three weeks, we’re going to have members retiring; they haven’t been paid in six months. This could affect their retirement payments; this could affect peoples’ tax status for 2016 and 2017. These are legitimate questions that need to be resolved because there are real implications involved.”
Welch pointed out that Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in 2013 attempted to withhold legislators’ pay until they sent him a bill to reform the state’s employee retirement system. A Cook County
judge determined that to be unconstitutional.
Mendoza, the new comptroller, has indicated that she, too, will continue to withhold lawmakers’ pay unless the courts rule otherwise. “Susana Mendoza has taken the same position as Munger,” Welch said. “I believe she’s wrong, as well. One of the reasons for filing the lawsuit was because we cannot continue to allow anyone—whether it’s Pat Quinn what he tried a couple of
years ago, whether it’s Leslie Munger or Susana Mendoza. They have to follow the Constitution.
“We’re all sworn to uphold the Constitution. That’s the first thing we do before we start the position that we’re elected to. If she (Mendoza) wants a court to tell her to follow the Constitution, then we’ll get her a court order. I believe we’re going to be successful.” Welch said it may be a month or two before the lawsuit will be resolved.
“When it (the lawsuit) will be heard (in court) I don’t know,” he said. “Hopefully sooner than later because we have those issues about retirees and people’s pension payments and tax
issues to address. At the end of the day it’s before the holidays, and people haven’t received payment for six months.”