- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Six state representatives filed a lawsuit Friday demanding paychecks the Illinois comptroller cut off last spring because there’s no budget agreement.

The Democrats sued Republican Leslie Munger claiming that she’s violating the state constitution through executive-branch interference with the Legislature. The lawmakers also took a shot at Munger’s political mentor, GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, for their dilemma.

Munger, on her last day in office after losing a special election in November, called her adversaries “cowards.” Democrat Susana Mendoza, who takes over Monday after campaigning on continuing Munger’s stinginess, said everyone needs to tough it out, but that she would relent if ordered by a judge.

Appointed by Rauner in 2014, Munger announced in April she would put legislative pay at the back of the line like other overdue vendor bills until members of the House and Senate and Rauner reached agreement on a full-year state budget, which has been missing from Springfield for two years now.

“Enough is enough,” said lead plaintiff Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democratic House member from Hillside. “lt’s time to honor the Illinois Constitution, to recognize that we have separation of powers.”

But Munger, sitting on 126,000 unpaid bills worth more than $10.3 billion, shot back Friday afternoon in Chicago, saying, “How cowardly that they refused to challenge” her before she left office and now seek “preferential treatment.”

“There are just no words for my disgust and disappointment,” she said.

Rauner’s paycheck is among those that waits - theoretically. The billionaire equity investor accepts only a $1 token salary as chief executive.

“Wow,” he said with wide eyes when told of the lawsuit. “Good grief. I am amazed.”

The base legislative salary - unchanged in eight years - is $67,836, but most every legislator gets a stipend of $10,327 or more for extra duties.

“People are suffering,” Welch said. “People have mortgages to pay, tuition to take care of. We’ve gone to work every day for six months. There are financial hardships for many.”

The other plaintiffs are Kate Cloonen of Kankakee, Lisa Hernandez of Cicero, and Chicago residents Mary Flowers, Sonya Harper and Silvana Tabares.

Munger was appointed in December 2014 following the death of Judy Baar Topinka. Mendoza, a former House member and current Chicago city clerk, beat Munger for comptroller in the special election last month.

Friday was Munger’s last business day before Mendoza’s inauguration. Welch defended the timing of the legal action, saying it came a day after lawmakers returned from the fall veto session in Springfield and after another end-of-the-month payday passed with no compensation. There are 2016 tax implications and effects on the pensions of legislators retiring next month, Welch said, adding the timing “has nothing to do with Susana Mendoza.”

“It has everything to do with the course and tactics used by Munger and Rauner,” he said. “We’re suing the person who made the decision.”

Mendoza said she will stick by her pledge unless ordered to handle the matter differently.

“Everyone needs to share in the sacrifice,” Mendoza said in a statement. “My policy will be to prioritize the most vulnerable people in our state and continue the delay in legislators’ pay, unless a court instructs me to do otherwise.”

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This story has been corrected to show that Tabares’ first name is ‘Silvana,’ not ‘Silvan.’

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Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen and Sara Burnett contributed to this report from Chicago.

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Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/john-oconnor .

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