SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a motion Thursday in St. Clair County Circuit Court that would block pay for state workers until Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly agree on a budget.
State workers have continued receiving paychecks throughout the standoff between the first-term Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which has left the state without a complete budget since June 30, 2015. Her motion would end that on Feb. 28.
When the impasse began, unions representing state workers sued to ensure that they would continue being paid, arguing that cutting off their pay would be an unconstitutional violation of their contracts. A St. Clair County judge ordered the state comptroller’s office to continue cutting paychecks.
Madigan’s office argues in its filing that the state is violating the Illinois Constitution by paying workers without appropriations approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor. The filing notes that the stopgap spending plan that funded state operations from July 2016 through December 2016 didn’t include pay for state workers because of the earlier court order.
Madigan, a Democrat, said in a written statement that the order “has removed much of the urgency for the Legislature and the governor to act on a budget.”
The attorney general’s office also argues that an Illinois Supreme Court ruling from this summer undercuts the unions’ argument in this case.
In the earlier case, which involved nearly $53 million in back wages owed to 24,000 workers in five agencies, the Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn’t obligated to pay because the General Assembly didn’t appropriate enough money to cover the expense.
“The Illinois Supreme Court overruled the sole legal basis for the St. Clair County Court’s order to allow state operations to continue without an appropriation,” Madigan said in the prepared statement. “With a new legislative session now underway, this is an appropriate time to ask the Circuit Court to reconsider this order in light of the changes in the law.”
The move, which came a day after Rauner delivered a relatively upbeat State of the State address in which he called for bipartisan compromise to end the impasse and amid negotiations in the Senate to do just that, was met with harsh criticism from the Illinois Republican Party.
“While serious bipartisan negotiations have accelerated in the Senate, it is outrageous that Lisa Madigan tonight decided to put (House) Speaker (Michael) Madigan’s power politics ahead of hard-working families in an effort to shut down state government,” state GOP spokesman Steven Yaffe said in a prepared statement, referring to the attorney general’s father. “Only a Madigan would try to disrupt bipartisan momentum in a matter that threatens to cripple government services and hurt state workers and their families.”
Rauner’s office had a more measured response.
“It’s disappointing to see any move to stop employee pay and disrupt government services, especially now as the Senate is on the verge of a bipartisan agreement to enact a balanced budget with changes to the system,” spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a written statement. “This filing seeks to directly harm thousands of employee families and even more who rely on our dedicated state workers every day.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, one of the unions that brought the lawsuit, pointed the blame for the larger situation at Rauner, with whom the union is engaged in a bitter contract battle. Members are scheduled to begin voting Monday on whether to authorize a strike for the first time in Illinois history.
“Rauner created this hostage situation by refusing to enact a fully funded budget unless his unrelated personal demands were enacted first,” spokesman Anders Lindall said in a prepared statement. “He should put aside those demands and do his job to work toward a budget without preconditions."
Still, AFSCME is “shocked and extremely disappointed” with Madigan for filing the motion, Lindall said.
“Despite all the chaos in state government in the past two years, the people of Illinois have been able to count on state employees being on the job to serve them,” he said. “The last thing Illinois needs is the further instability that blocking state payroll could cause.”
Madigan’s office is seeking to have the court’s pay order lifted Feb. 28, giving Rauner and lawmakers “additional time to enact appropriations legislation and thereby ensure that state employees will continue to receive their wages,” according to the filing.
Rauner is scheduled to deliver his budget proposal to the General Assembly on Feb. 15.