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St. Clair judge denies Madigan’s request to halt state worker pay during budget impasse

Judge denies Madigan's request to halt worker pay during budget impasse

A judge in St. Clair County, IL, heard arguments Thursday on a request to halt state worker paychecks unless lawmakers resolve the state’s nearly two-year budget impasse. The hearing was held before Circuit Judge Robert LeChien, who denied Attorne
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A judge in St. Clair County, IL, heard arguments Thursday on a request to halt state worker paychecks unless lawmakers resolve the state’s nearly two-year budget impasse. The hearing was held before Circuit Judge Robert LeChien, who denied Attorne

A St. Clair County judge Thursday denied a request to stop state workers’ paychecks unless lawmakers resolve the state’s nearly two-year budget impasse.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked Circuit Judge Robert LeChien to reverse a previous court order requiring Illinois to pay state employees in the absence of a spending plan. The Democrat argued that stopping pay is constitutional and would hasten a budget agreement.

A hearing on Madigan’s request was held Thursday before LeChien at the courthouse in Belleville. In July 2015, LeChien put in place an injunction that said state workers had to be paid even though there was no budget in place.

LeChein on Thursday decided to keep that injunction in place.

The Attorney General’s office said it would appeal Thursday’s decision.

“We think the law is clear,” said Maura Possley, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office. “The Illinois Constitution requires an enacted appropriation for state spending. Under the current injunction, the state has spent over $3 billion in taxpayer money without any transparency or legislative debate as required by law. The governor is using this injunction to avoid following the Constitution and enacting a budget, irreparably harming the people of Illinois.”

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has criticized Madigan’s legal move, suggesting she wants to create a “crisis” that would shut down the government.

“We’re pleased our hard-working state employees, who show up to work every day on behalf of the people of Illinois, will continue to be paid,” said General Counsel Dennis Murashko. “It is our hope the attorney general drops this lawsuit, so the bipartisan negotiations in the Senate can continue in order to reach a balanced budget with changes to get our state back on track.”

Madigan is the daughter of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

We think the law is clear. The Illinois Constitution requires an enacted appropriation for state spending. Under the current injunction, the state has spent over $3 billion in taxpayer money without any transparency or legislative debate as required by law. The governor is using this injunction to avoid following the Constitution and enacting a budget, irreparably harming the people of Illinois.

Maura Possley, spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan

Brett Legner, the deputy solicitor general for Lisa Madigan’s office, wrote in a motion prior to Thursday’s hearing that having the injunction in place removes urgency to come to an agreement.

“By allowing the legislature and the executive to avoid their constitutional roles in the budget process, the injunction has undermined the budget process and resulted in great public harm, damaging the integrity of the state’s constitutional form of government,” Legner wrote.

During Thursday’s hearing, Legner argued the injunction being in place gave an excuse for the General Assembly and the governor’s office not to put together an appropriations bill.

“It’s not the court’s job to unstick the branches if they remain stuck 19 months later,” Legner said.

Legner argued dissolving the injunction wouldn’t necessarily mean there were would be a government shut down. He said part of the stopgap budget included full-year appropriations, and some appropriations had yet to be fully spent.

Prior to the stopgap budget being passed last year, the General Assembly and Rauner had been locked in a yearlong budget impasse. The stopgap budget expired in January, and no new appropriations has been put in place to finish out the 2017 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

In his arguments, attorney Steve Yokich, representing AFSCME and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said dissolution of the injunction would lead for more than 63,000 employees being laid off.

We’re pleased our hard-working state employees, who show up to work every day on behalf of the people of Illinois, will continue to be paid. It is our hope the attorney general drops this lawsuit, so the bipartisan negotiations in the Senate can continue in order to reach a balanced budget with changes to get our state back on track.

Dennis Murashko, general counsel to Gov. Bruce Rauner

He said when the General Assembly and the governor agreed on the stopgap budget, it included a provision that the appropriations bill would not supersede any court order.

“There are situations when courts have to step in and unstick the government,” Yokich said.

The Attorney General’s office asked that the injunction be dissolved on Feb. 28, allowing time to come up with a budget agreement.

“For a court order to act as appropriations is rewriting the separation of powers,” Legner said. “It’s just an acknowledgment there is a court order, so we don’t have to deal with this.”

Yokich said if the injunction was dissolved, time would have been needed to determine who were essential employees and would still need to work whether there was a government shut down.

He argued a shutdown could have affected corrections workers, mental health workers, employees in the Department of Children and Family Services and highway workers, among others.

“If the injunction were dissolved, there would be a great possibility of government shutdown, and government shutdown would be bad for the employees who would be laid off, for the employees who kept working and bad for the taxpayers,” Yokich said. “We tried to avoid that sort of thing.”

Both Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois House say worker paychecks should continue. They have launched separate bills seeking to avert a government shutdown if Madigan’s request succeeds.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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