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updated: 8/30/2012 6:47 PM

Judge rules state must set money aside in pay dispute

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Associated Press

The judge in a dispute over Illinois workers' pay raises told Gov. Pat Quinn's administration Thursday to hand over unspent money from the state budget in case the employees win the court battle and back wages.

Cook County Circuit Judge Richard Billik Jr. ordered a voucher for $18 million in unspent general revenue sent to the state comptroller. Millions of dollars more are also covered by Thursday's decree, but none of the money will be spent.

Quinn, a Democrat, hasn't paid about $60 million in raises from 2011 that are required by the government's contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. An arbitrator ruled in AFSCME's favor but Quinn sued and Billik is deciding the case.

AFSCME asked the judge to order a spending stop because Friday is the last day the state can earmark where it wants to spend money remaining from the budget that expired June 30. Vouchers detailing spending have to be at the comptroller's office by Aug. 31 while the state may spend through Dec. 31.

"If the end of August passed without this order, the state would claim it ran out the clock and couldn't be held accountable," AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement.

Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft pointed out that Billik ruled in July that Quinn is not bound by contracted pay raises if lawmakers don't set aside money for them. He ordered further arbitration to determine, in part, the state's ability to pay. The arbitrator declined to revisit the case, so Billik will decide.

"Vouchers will not be finalized or paid out," Kraft said, "until, at the very least, there is a final order from the trial court as to what payments out of eligible, remaining appropriations can be paid and are owed by the state."

Officials involved in the lawsuit are uncertain how much money is at stake. The $18 million is what is left in general funds in the agencies under Quinn that have not paid the raises. But the decree also covers money in special funds that typically go for payroll and each agency's authority to transfer a certain amount of money from dedicated accounts into salaries.

Initially, pay hikes were withheld from union workers in 14 agencies. Quinn has since allowed raises in eight, but increases for about 30,000 workers in the departments of Corrections, Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Natural Resources, Public Health, and the Human Rights Commission are still in dispute.

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