By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th) and others sued former state comptroller Leslie Munger accusing her of illegally withholding their paychecks for the past seven months as political leverage to force them to approve Gov. Bruce Rauner’s non-budgetary demands.
With their paychecks being held hostage during the budget impasse, several Democratic state representatives led by Welch say Munger is illegally withholding their paychecks in violation of the state constitution.
Welch—a lawyer for the past 19 years—said for some of his colleagues, their state paycheck is their only source of income and that many are having a hard time financially.
He went on to say several of his peers have attempted to refinance their mortgages, but were declined. Others are borrowing from their 401k accounts and banks are turning thumbs-down on approving loans because they cannot prove their income. Still, others have exhausted their savings, yet, they all travel to Springfield to “take care of the peoples’ business, but we are not getting paid,” Welch said.
It’s fight back time for the representatives. Joining Welch in the lawsuit are Representatives Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th); Sylvana Tabares (D-21st); Mary E. Flowers (D-31st); Katherine Cloonen (D-79th); and Sonya M. Harper (D-6th). Welch stated a number of Republicans have thanked him for taking the lead in this lawsuit.
Welch found it interesting that on Jan. 1, 2017, 200 laws went into effect and the comptroller “at the direction of the billionaire governor decided because one law didn’t get passed, they would hold up our paychecks. It’s not right. It’s not legal. It’s unconstitutional, and we’re addressing it in a court of law,” said Welch.
This week, Welch’s lawyers filed a motion for summary judgment, which asks the judge to agree with their legal positions. He said that could take up to five weeks before a ruling is given, but believes they will prevail.
State lawmakers have not been paid since May 31, 2016, Welch told the Chicago Crusader late Monday night. He said Munger has no legal right to withhold their pay.
Welch said this is an attempt to force lawmakers to approve Rauner’s non-budgetary wishes, like tort reform; changing the worker’s compensation system; approving term limits; and to “ensure a real property tax freeze” as well as reforming the pension system.
As part of her campaign, Munger proposed a “No Budget, No Pay” policy that would require a balanced budget be passed in order for state lawmakers to be paid. Though she spent millions of campaign dollars in this past election, Munger lost to former Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza.
Rauner, who said he was “amazed” at the lawsuit, said he hopes Mendoza “will stand firm on this. “The legislators are insisting that even though they’re not doing their jobs passing budgets and reforms, they wanna get paid.”
Welch said Munger “failed to live up to her constitutional obligations in failing to pay legislators.” He said Munger’s “no budget, no pay” is not a part of the constitution. “There is nothing that says if there is no budget, no legislator should get paid.” Welch said Munger is violating both the state statutes and the constitution.
“She was probably hoping and banking that we wouldn’t sue her, but it is the right thing to do because we are all sworn to uphold the constitution,” Welch said.
Reminded that Rauner has called on legislators to withdraw their lawsuit which he calls “frivolous,” and to put “taxpayers and human services ahead of themselves,” Welch said the governor “should be ashamed of himself.”
“It’s easy for him to say that when he made $194 million last year. He’s a billionaire. He’s a guy who can pay $180,000 for a bottle of wine. It’s easy for him to take $1 a year in salary, but these are regular working-class people who have been elected by their constituents, many of them just like them…working-class members who need a paycheck.
“I think the governor should be ashamed of himself and knock off the political stunts, and let’s get to work. Let’s get a budget for our state. Our state deserves it, but shame on our governor who is a billionaire and doesn’t need a paycheck from the state,” said Welch.
Welch went on to explain, “It was the governor who ordered the comptroller to stop paying us. This is nothing more than a political stunt designed to starve the legislators. He makes more in one hour than a legislator does in a year. So, him [sic] not taking a salary is nothing but a stunt.”
Asked about the status of the budget, Welch said there is no budget, but he hopes when they go back to Springfield on Jan. 9, 2017 for two days of the lame-duck session “that something happens for the good of our state.
“There is no budget. It’s not because of the rank and file. We need a budget.” Welch said the governor “wants all things that are friendly to his corporate friends, but not to working-class families.”