Arguing there’s no urgency in Springfield to pass a state budget after a nearly two-yearlong impasse, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is trying a new legal tactic to force a compromise: have a judge stop paychecks to state employees.
When the budget impasse first started in July 2015, a St. Clair County judge ruled that state employees should continue to be paid for their work even though there was no budget authorizing the state to make those payments.
In a late Thursday court filing, Madigan asked that judge to consider a recent state Supreme Court ruling that she says would reverse that 2015 decision. Madigan is asking the judge to reach a decision by the end of February to give the legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner time to reach a deal before employees would stop being paid.
In a statement, Madigan said the court decision to continue paying state employees “removed much of the urgency for the Legislature and the Governor to act on a budget.”
Madigan argues that if state employees stop working because they’re not receiving payments, then Rauner and Democratic leaders in the legislature would approve a budget to keep government operations open.
Illinois’ public universities and human service programs have not been fully paid by the state during the impasse, forcing many institutions or organizations to borrow money, lay off workers and, in some cases, reduce services.
The budget impasse has largely centered around the political fight between Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is the attorney general’s father.
Earlier this week, the governor said he remained optimistic that a deal is close among Senate leaders. Rauner and Madigan have not been involved in those negotiations, though interest groups aligned with both Rauner and Madigan have been critical of the Senate compromise. It’s unclear if the Senate plan would be approved by the House and signed by Rauner.
The threat of a government shutdown also created the unusual circumstance of Rauner finding himself in agreement with Illinois’ largest government employee union, AFSCME.
“This filing seeks to directly harm thousands of employee families and even more who rely on our dedicated state workers everyday,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement.
AFSCME has been locked in a bitter contract dispute with Rauner and will begin a strike authorization vote Jan. 30. Union spokesman Anders Lindall blamed Rauner for demanding economic and political changes be included in a budget that has led to the impasse, but also agreed with Rauner in condemning Madigan’s court filing.
“It is fundamental that everyone who works must be paid on time and in full, but this filing throws that basic commitment into question for state employees.”
Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who signs checks on behalf of the state, said in a statement she would follow the court’s decision. In a statement that is highly critical of Rauner, Mendoza said state employees “do not deserve to be used as pawns in a manufactured budget impasse.”
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. You can follow him at @tonyjarnold.