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Raoul hits Quinn for ‘political grandstanding’ with legislative pay grab, compares gov to Blago
SPRINGFIELD-In suspending legislative salaries, Gov. Pat Quinn is behaving similarly to his imprisoned predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, by engaging in “populist grandstanding,” the chairman of a legislative pension-reform panel said Wednesday.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), who leads a 10-member conference committee sought by Quinn to draw up a pension compromise, also said he would like to see someone in the Legislature go to court to challenge Quinn’s “illegal” maneuver in “punishing folks, who may well have supported what he supported.”
Quinn, who launched his scorched-earth attack on legislators’ pay after they missed his midnight Tuesday deadline for a pension deal, is particularly sensitive to comparisons to his one-time running mate, Blagojevich. In 2003, Blagojevich attempted to withhold legislative and judicial pay increases as part of a confrontational and sweeping bid to put a lid on state salaries.
The judges fought and blocked Blagojevich’s effort by persuading the Illinois Supreme Court that the then-governor was attempting to diminish judicial salaries in an unconstitutional manner. Nearly identical language exists in the state Constitution protecting lawmakers against pay cuts during their terms in office.
“I think it’s similar,” Raoul said of the tactics of the two Democratic governors. “I came into the Legislature at a very unfortunate time where it was this gridlock and this…fighting between Gov. Blagojevich’s office and the Legislature, unnecessary finger-pointing. And I think [Quinn] is engaging in the same thing.
“I just think leadership calls for something different than populist grandstanding,” Raoul, a senator since 2004, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
An override effort faces long odds of reaching the 71-vote threshold in the House to block Quinn, leading Raoul to say it is a “possibility” someone will mount a lawsuit instead to safeguard lawmakers’ paychecks as work toward a pension deal proceeds.
But Raoul, a potential candidate for attorney general if Attorney General Lisa Madigan runs against Quinn, said it would not be him doing it. “I don’t want to give his action any more visibility and credence than it deserves,” he said.
At the same time, Raoul said he hoped such an effort would gain momentum and ultimately thwart Quinn from possibly claiming his legislative pay grab triggered a pension compromise — when work toward a deal by the conference committee appears to be progressing without direct input from Quinn’s administration on what he specifically wants or doesn’t want in a deal.
“He knows [the conference committee] very well may come up with a product the General Assembly could take up this summer. What it can be made to look like is we failed his deadline until he took this action to suspend our pay and because he took this action, we got it done,” Raoul said.
“It’s made to look like he merits some credit for getting it done, when in fact he’s not rolling his sleeves up and getting it to the table. He ought not get credit for the work that we’re doing,” Raoul said.
Raoul predicted the committee that he chairs, which was was formed at Quinn’s urging after the House and Senate hit an impasse on pensions in May, could reach a consensus on a deal by mid-August to take to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote.
Raoul’s harsh rebuke for the governor coincided with similar denunciation from his House counterpart on the pension conference committee.
“The governor’s actions today do nothing to move us toward a solution to our pension crisis and only serve as an unnecessary distraction,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who is House Speaker Michael Madigan’s point person on pensions.
“Each of the conference committee members is committed to a compromise in the near future that addresses this problem in a meaningful way. Our work will continue unimpeded,” she said. “We would urge the governor to join us as we push to the finish line to really do what is right for Illinois.”
One of the few voices of support for Quinn in the Legislature belonged to state Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), who endorsed the governor’s pay cuts.
“What governor in our state’s history has ever volunteered to suspend his own pay?” Kotowski asked in his Twitter feed. “Way to lead Gov. Quinn.”