Editorial: The Mendoza line on legislators pay

The popular idea that Illinois legislators should see their paychecks penalized when failing to ensure that all the state's other creditors get paid is not a new one.

Nor even a partisan one.

The question is, is it a genuine one?

It's certainly a confusing one.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, tried to freeze lawmakers' pay in 2013.

Then, former state Comptroller Leslie Munger, a Republican, tried to withhold lawmakers' pay a year ago.

Neither attempt was successful after being challenged in court.

But successful or not, it's good populist politics. It certainly taps into voter frustration with the ineptitude of state government.

It's such good politics, in fact, that not only did Munger build her entire 2016 re-election campaign around the “No budget, no pay” slogan, but her Democratic opponent Susana Mendoza attempted to co-opt the message by running on a pay-them-last theme.

And lo and behold, Mendoza won last November's election.

Then, as things get curiouser and curiouser, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat whose father helped block the Quinn legislative pay freeze, filed suit to withhold pay for state workers over the objections of Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, who worried that the maneuver would quash “the grand bargain” he hoped legislators could reach on the state budget impasse.

If, by now, you're scratching your head over who is on what side in this debate, or how effective the paycheck threat can be, we don't blame you. After all, if Springfield made sense, maybe the bills would be paid and a budget would be passed.

One thing that does seem clear, however, is that Mendoza's commitment to pay-them-last is bullhorn loud but razor thin.

When a Cook County judge ruled last week that “there may be discretion by a comptroller as to certain expenditures but as to expenditures that are compelled by Illinois law, that discretion doesn't exist,” Mendoza instantly caved.

Rather than seeking, as would be expected, a stay of the ruling while appealing the decision, Mendoza immediately released the legislators' back pay.

In fact, it sounds like the paychecks are already going out.

As we have warned more than once in this space, we are living in an Orwellian time.

But the Orwellian politics isn't limited to the Fake Spin in Washington. There's plenty of Fake Spin in Springfield too.

Enough is enough.

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