Illinois attorney general says not sure about paying workers
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Attorney General Lisa Madigan raised doubts Monday about Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan to continue paying state employees even if there's no budget agreement by Wednesday.
Madigan, a Democrat, issued a statement that questioned Rauner's announcement hours earlier that there was legal precedent to issue paychecks to 65,000 government workers after the start of the fiscal year while he and Democrats in the General Assembly continue their tussle over how to pay the state's bills.
In a memo to state workers provided to The Associated Press, the Republican governor said flatly, "State employees will be paid for their work."
"I will do everything within my power," the governor continued. "Our lawyers are working hard to ensure that all employees will be paid on their scheduled pay dates. The precedent already exists."
Madigan responded with a detailed summary of the state's timely-paycheck history, emphasizing that a 25-year-old appellate court decision flatly stated that cutting checks without an approved fiscal plan violates the Illinois Constitution.
"Even a court cannot order all of these payments to be made," Madigan said.
State officials are bracing for what some call a partial government shutdown. Although there is money enough to pay employees through mid-month, some state services will be disrupted. Vendors who have continuing contracts will not be paid.
Democrats sent Rauner a $36 billion spending outline they acknowledged was up to $4 million short on money to pay for it. But they argued the services are vital. Rauner argues that fixing the fiscal mess depends on changing the state's business and political climates - from limiting liability lawsuit payouts to putting term limits on politicians.
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly insisted there is precedent for Rauner's plan. During a 2007 budget impasse, the largest employee labor union, the Illinois Council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filed a lawsuit to compel distribution of paychecks in August. The court ordered payment based on agreement among the comptroller, attorney general and unions to pay in compliance with state and federal law, Kelly said.
"We simply want the same outcome here," Kelly said. "We are ready to reach a similar agreement with state workers and hope the attorney general reconsiders her efforts to block state workers from getting paid."
Madigan's take on the events of 2007 differ. She said the AFSMCE lawsuit focused on a federal requirement that employers pay at least the federal minimum wage when checks are due or face financial penalties. Because a separate payroll reflecting the federal minimum wage was cumbersome, the court authorized the full payroll. The budget was signed into law in time for the month's second payroll.
Madigan said the court noted it wasn't setting precedent. If a fresh court challenge is necessary, AFSCME appears ready.
"State employees will remain on the job, and as we have done in the past, we have prepared to take legal action to ensure that they are paid on time," AFSCME Council 31 executive director Roberta Lynch said in a statement.
The General Assembly plans to be in session Tuesday and Wednesday. House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat and the attorney general's father, has invited 15 Rauner cabinet members to explain their preparations for entering the 2016 fiscal year without new money. The speaker was unimpressed by Rauner's paycheck pronouncement.
Making the promise, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, merely telegraphs "disruption, both of state services and the payment of state employees."
"Hopefully, we'll be able to get more information tomorrow from the agencies on their plans, their preparedness for disruption and shutdown, and how we might work to minimize all of that."
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago, was miffed. Rauner vetoed outright most of the budget that Democrats sent him. Democrats have pointed out he could have used his executive power to approve just enough spending to keep government going while negotiations continue.
"He had choices," Phelon said. "Yet now he wants us to see him as the savior of the state employees' paychecks."
Burnett reported from Chicago.