(CNN) – An exasperated Illinois governor Wednesday suspended pay for state legislators until they pass employee pension reform for state workers.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, issued a line item veto to a budget bill, House Bill 214, suspending the pay of all members of the state legislature. The veto came after the general assembly again failed to pass pension reform.
In a press conference announcing the pay suspension, Quinn repeatedly called the lack of comprehensive pension reform a "crisis," one requiring desperate action from himself and the legislature.
"They're not going to get paid until they get the pension reform accomplished," Quinn said in a press conference. Illinois legislators make $67,836 a year, according to the governor's office. The governor defended his action by saying he is authorized by the state constitution to veto any bill or line item.
Quinn himself will receive no pay until the matter is over, he said, having ordered the state comptroller to withhold his salary.
"I've tried everything in the book to get [the legislature's] attention," Quinn said, referring to normal workers who do not get paid until after their work is done. "It's time for the legislature to legislate."
The Chicago Democrat has made pension reform a major part of his administration since first taking office in January of 2009. In a statement, he called Illinois's pension problem the "worst-in-the-nation," the product of 70 years of mismanagement by past legislatures and governors. This year alone saw a $1 billion payment to the pension system.
Neither house of the state general assembly was in session today. Both are controlled by Democrats.
Illinois state Senate President John J. Cullerton has in the past called pension reform his highest priority. On Wednesday however, the Democrat defended the legislature. "Lawmakers have worked hard this session," Cullerton said in a statement. "Passing a balanced budget, paying off hundreds of millions of dollars in old bills, cutting their own pay and numerous, serious bipartisan efforts to enact comprehensive pension reform."
Cullerton continued, "The governor's actions today are as unproductive as yesterday's arbitrary deadline. Responsible leaders know that unworkable demands will only delay progress," he said. "Our efforts on pensions will continue until we've reached our goal. In the meantime, the work of the pensions conference committee shouldn't be undermined or deterred by today's or future political grandstanding."
The pension conflict makes the second major row in Illinois between the governor and the legislature in as many days. Tuesday, the general assembly overrode Quinn's veto of gun control legislation, making Illinois the last state in the country to allow carried firearms to be concealed.
Possibly in reaction to that override, Quinn Wednesday accused the general assembly of being more responsible to special interests than to the state. "When the National Rifle Association has a deadline for a legislature, they're right on it," he said. "But what about the taxpayers?"