- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The legal ping pong over paying Illinois government workers without a budget took new bounces Friday, with appellate justices reversing one order and the Supreme Court declining to step into the fray.

The high court made no comment in denying Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s entreaty for intervention. She based her plea on the state’s fiscal crisis and two competing judgments, from circuit courts on opposite sides of the state, which leave Illinois officials to slug it out at the county level.

Illinois is in the third week of the 2016 fiscal year without an agreed-upon budget or spending authority.

The state’s 1st District Appellate Court reversed a decree Friday that strictly limited who could be paid without the constitutionally required budget agreement. The case returns to the circuit court to balance “hardships” on both sides of the issue.

That pronouncement bolstered Comptroller Leslie Munger’s decision to cut new fiscal-year paychecks when they came due this week. The unsettled arguments, from separate lawsuits in Cook and St. Clair counties, thus far have provided her justification this week to pay nearly 10,000 state employees for work done in fiscal 2016.

“I remain confident that paying state employees for their work is the legal, fiscally responsible and right thing to do,” Munger said in a statement.

It was also good news for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. In the certain ruckus that would be raised if 64,500 state workers had no money to pay the rent, the first-year governor would face increased pressure to reach a fiscal deal with unyielding Democratic lawmakers. The two sides have been at odds for weeks over how much money the state should spend in the coming year.

Democrat Madigan used the day’s events to chide Rauner and lawmakers - including her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago - to pull together.

“The state will continue to operate without a budget and with a high degree of uncertainty,” the attorney general’s spokeswoman Natalie Bauer Luce said, “which could be quickly remedied if the governor and the Legislature would fulfill their duty.”

Cook County Judge Diane Larsen decided last week that only some pay is justified in the absence of a budget. Those employees who fall under federal labor law must receive minimum wage, but Munger argued that the state doesn’t have the technology to delineate those employees.

Munger, a GOP appointee of Rauner’s, appealed and the appellate court decreed that the state’s “hardship” was not considered.

Madigan argued hardship for taxpayers in the form of illegal spending. She countered Munger’s action by filing an emergency appeal Thursday with the Supreme Court, seeking a shortcut to a binding ruling because of “constitutional questions that affect the core of the government’s operation.” She was rebuffed.

The matter grew murkier late last week when St. Clair County Judge Robert LeChien, deciding a lawsuit by 13 employee unions, stated that not paying workers would violate the Illinois Constitution’s protection of contractual agreements. With the Cook County prohibition on hold because of the appeal, LeChien’s dictum gave Munger the necessary confidence to process the 2016 payroll - just under 10,000 in the last three days.

On the budget, Rauner is holding out for pro-business and anti-corruption reforms he says will promote economic investment and political trust and boost revenue. Democrats argue that his agenda, largely abhorrent to the party, is unrelated to the budget. They want a tax increase to bring in an extra $4 billion they say is necessary for vital services.


The case is People v. Munger

Online: https://bit.ly/1CMrQGy


Contact John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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