Judge: No budget, no pay for state employees
Illinois won't be allowed to pay state workers in full during an ongoing budget impasse, a Cook County judge ruled Tuesday, effectively leaving some 65,000 employees without a paycheck as lawmakers continue to fight over a new spending plan.
In response to a request for a legal review by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Judge Diane Joan Larsen said Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger may pay only some workers who are covered under a federal law. Those workers would receive 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 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. Lawyers for Munger indicated they will appeal, and 13 labor unions representing state employees have filed a separate lawsuit in St. Clair County seeking full pay.
Larsen acknowledged the situation is unfortunate but said responsibility lies with Rauner and the Legislature for not agreeing to a spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1, 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 spending plan 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 for the fiscal year that started July 1. Her office argued that under the state constitution, the only way for all workers to be paid is for Rauner and the Legislature to pass a budget.
"(Madigan's) position is that the governor and the Legislature should do their jobs and enact a budget so that we can continue to ensure that critical services and state payrolls move forward," spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said after the hearing.
Without appropriation power, the comptroller is limited to paying only crucial bills, such as debt service, federal-program participation fees and payments required by court orders.
Munger, a Republican, wanted the judge to rule that all state employees fit into that category based on a court order during a previous budget impasse. But Madigan, a Democrat, said that court order and an earlier one indicated that the only allowed pay was limited to federal minimum wage.