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updated: 9/18/2013 11:43 PM

Judge to rule next week in suit over lawmaker pay

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Associated Press

A Cook County circuit court judge said Wednesday that his ruling will come next week on a lawsuit challenging Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to stop lawmakers from being paid until they agree on how to deal with Illinois' nearly $100 billion public pension problem.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued after Quinn used his line-item veto in July to cut money for legislators' salaries from the state budget. They also asked Judge Neil Cohen to order Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka -- who controls the state's checkbook and is named in the lawsuit along with Quinn -- to issue the paychecks.

During oral arguments Wednesday, attorney Richard Prendergast called Quinn's veto "an unprecedented attempt" to fulfill his goals through coercion. He also argued the governor's actions were unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

Quinn's lawyers say he has the authority to veto the salaries. Attorney Steven Pflaum also said Wednesday that the lawsuit is premature. He said if legislators want to be paid, they could return to Springfield and vote to override the veto -- a move Quinn has acknowledged could be unpopular with voters.

"(Madigan and Cullerton) filed this lawsuit too soon," Pflaum said.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat like Madigan and Cullerton, attended a portion of Wednesday's oral arguments but did not speak during the hearing and left the courthouse without addressing reporters. Madigan and Cullerton did not attend.

Cohen told attorneys he hasn't made up his mind and will issue his decision by Sept. 26. But he reserved his harshest questions for lawyers for Quinn and Topinka, asking why the comptroller didn't go to the courts before deciding to stop the paychecks and questioning whether any governor should be able to halt pay "for whatever good or bad reason."

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