Judge denies request to halt worker pay
BELLEVILLE (AP) — A judge on Thursday denied a request by the Illinois attorney general to stop paying state workers unless lawmakers resolve an ongoing budget impasse.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien refused to reverse a previous court order requiring Illinois to pay state employees in the absence of a spending plan. Attorney General Lisa Madigan argued stopping pay is constitutional and would hasten a budget agreement.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has criticized Madigan's legal move, suggesting the daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan wanted 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," Rauner said in a statement, adding he hopes Madigan drops her efforts and allow negotiations in the Senate on a balanced budget to succeed.
Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature have been fighting for years over how to balance the budget. Rauner repeated Wednesday that he will support a tax increase to help close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, but only if it is accompanied by measures he wants to help businesses, such as reduced workers' compensation costs.
Democrats oppose Rauner's agenda, with Speaker Madigan calling it "extreme" and harmful to the middle class.
Without a budget in place, social service agencies, higher education and other programs have suffered. Other spending has continued, however, because of court orders or state law. That has included employee pay.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois House say worker paychecks should continue and have introduced separate bills seeking to avert a government shutdown if Madigan's motion succeeds.
Rauner said in a video message to state employees last week that he would veto the Democrat-backed plan, which would appropriate money for state agencies to continue paying employees through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The Republican plan wouldn't expire at the end of the fiscal year, but it puts the governor's office and state agencies in charge of deciding how much money employees receive — authority that Democrats are not willing to give.
Rauner and the state's largest public-employee union have been at odds over a new contract, with the governor seeking millions in savings.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 is holding a strike authorization vote to determine if members are willing to walk out. That vote, which started last month, continues through Sunday.