Judge rules no pay for Illinois workers without state budget
▲ LISTEN A pair of courtroom decisions in Chicago Tuesday is drastically changing the dynamics at play in the political drama unfolding in Illinois state politics. Both rulings have to do with how the state government will operate as it goes further into shutdown mode. WBEZ’s state politics reporter Tony Arnold joins host Melba Lara to break down what’s at stake.
Illinois won't be allowed to pay state workers in full during an ongoing budget impasse, a Cook County judge ruled Tuesday, potentially leaving some 65,000 employees without a paycheck and putting added pressure on lawmakers to approve a new spending plan.
Judge Diane Larsen said that without a 2016 budget in place Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger may only pay some workers who are covered under a federal labor law. Those workers would receive the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour plus overtime.
But Munger's attorneys and lawyers for the state's personnel agency said it would take as long as a year to determine which employees would be paid under federal law and adjust payroll because of antiquated computer systems. That effectively means no workers will be paid until Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature approve a budget, the comptroller's attorneys said. It's also likely to trigger federal fines and penalties.
Larsen's ruling likely won't be the final word. Munger and the leader of the state's largest public-employee union separately said they plan to appeal, and Rauner directed the state personnel department to do the same. Thirteen labor unions representing state employees also have filed a lawsuit in St. Clair County seeking full pay. A hearing in that case could occur this week.
"Public service workers in state government are on the job despite the lack of a state budget for the fiscal year that started July 1," said Roberta Lynch, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. "Throughout Illinois they are keeping their communities safe, protecting kids, caring for veterans and people with disabilities, and providing countless other vital public services - and they should be paid for their work on time and in full."
The comptroller's office must begin processing payroll on Thursday for workers to receive their first paycheck of the new fiscal year as scheduled in mid-July. Rauner told employees in a memo last week that they must continue coming to work, and AFSCME has said its members plan to do so. The governor also said his office is asking local banks and credit unions to offer loans to workers who need help paying their bills.
Larsen acknowledged the situation is unfortunate but said the state constitution prohibits the comptroller from paying bills without spending authority or a federal mandate. She said responsibility lies with Rauner and the Legislature for not agreeing on a spending plan, and with state officials who have known since at least 2007 that their computer systems were incapable of meeting federal law.
Lawmakers have been deadlocked over a budget for weeks. Rauner, a conservative businessman seeking pro-business reforms in Illinois, vetoed a budget passed by the Legislature that fell far short of available revenues. Democrats such as House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are seeking increases in revenue to ensure the government continues to provide social services and other key operations.
Lisa Madigan, a Democrat and the speaker's daughter, had asked the judge to clarify what state government is obligated to pay without an approved budget. Her office argued that the only way for all workers to be paid their regular salaries is for Rauner and the Legislature to act.
Munger, a Republican, wanted the judge to rule that all state employees be paid their regular salaries. Her attorneys noted Madigan agreed to an order that all workers be paid during a 2007 budget impasse, and he questioned whether the difference this time around is politics.
Madigan's office said circumstances are different because in 2007 lawmakers had passed a temporary budget and were days away from approving a full plan. A spokeswoman denied politics played a role.
"This entire situation has been caused by the failure of the Governor and the Legislature to enact a budget," Madigan said in an emailed statement.
Without appropriation power, the comptroller is limited to paying only crucial bills, such as debt service and pension payments, as well as federal-program participation fees and payments required by court orders.
A Rauner spokesman noted legislators passed a law last year allowing them to continue to be paid without a budget and said the governor would support similar legislation to cover state workers. It was unclear if or when a bill will be introduced.