Tuesday seems to be the last hurrah for passing an Illinois state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, due to begin Wednesday, as an impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic controlled legislature – both the House and the Senate – but especially between the powerful Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan, in a standoff with the governor, and the resulting government shutdown that may have dire consequences for the paychecks of state employees.
In a memo on Monday, Rauner assured those employees that they would be paid, and should show up for work. “State employees will be paid for their work — and I will do everything within my power to ensure you don’t miss a single payroll. Our lawyers are working hard to ensure that all employees will be paid on their scheduled pay dates. The precedent already exists.”
Attorney General Lisa Madigan – the speaker’s daughter – says not so fast, and cited a one time exception in 2007, where, according to the Federal Labor Standards Act, employees were paid when there was a one month budget. The government was not prepared, in time, to pay the federal minimum wage, that FLSA dictated, but the Court allowed them to make a full, not a partial payroll.
“While there are limited payments that the comptroller is authorized to make in the absence of a budget, Illinois law is clear that the state cannot continue to fund all government operations and services in the absence of a budget passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor,” said Madigan as report by Reboot Illinois.
She also emphasized that the state constitution and “and statutes prevent the comptroller from continuing to pay expenditures, including the state’s payroll, without a budget, and even a court cannot order all of these payments to be made.”
Meanwhile Democrats are considering approval of a “$2.2 billion, one-month budget to fund select, critical services, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Tuesday. If approved the money would cover a wide variety of expenditures, including GPS monitoring for convicted sex-offenders, addiction treatment, child care and costs for the Illinois School for the Deaf and the Visually Impaired. Broken down, some of the more salient price tags look like this: $93 million for child care, $1.57 million for Medicaid, and $127 million for the developmentally disabled.
Crucial to the cost of passing the so-called “maintenance bill” are the necessary votes — 71 in the House. The Sun-Times claimed that an insider said the likelihood that it would pass was strong. But, Rauner said that he would veto a temporary budget.
In a continuing game of political chicken, the governor has told Democrats that he will not agree to a budget that is out of balance, according to his account by $4 billion (the Democrats state that it is only $3 billion off) and that they must agree to his turnaround agenda, which has four components: a revision of workmen’s compensation and lawsuit reform, a property tax freeze, term limits and legislative redistricting reform.
Speaker Madigan’s response is that these are a way of avoiding true negotiations and that the $36 billion budget, even with the shortfall should be considered, so that other monies can be found. In the interim, the attorney general has sent out a memo requesting identification of essential service personnel, and that they should be prepared to meet FLSA.payroll requirements.
Reaction has been mixed, with some thinking that this is inevitable and others taking a broader opinion. Christopher Mooney is the director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and the W. Russell Arrington Professor of State Politics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois, Springfield, and in a telephone interview his initial reaction was that a shutdown, even a partial shutdown, “is not good, and this is a result of very difficult budget challenges facing the state, that has been years in the making.”
Furthermore, he noted, there are no pleasant outcomes, “either taxes will have to be raised, or expenditures cut; choices that are not pleasant for a politician.” One of these outcomes is if state employees will be paid, as Rauner noted, or as Attorney General Madigan qualified. Mooney commented that there may be “a battle of definitions” to proceed to that goal.
Taking a sharper line is John Murphy, professor emeritus of political science from Northeastern Illinois University, who said, in an emailed statement, “Unfortunately, the drama being played out in Springfield is neither too surprising nor avoidable. In a sense we, the voters of Illinois, have sent very mixed signals to our state government. We want a balanced budget, but no tax increase; no cuts in vital services either. We elected a non-politician as governor, because we didn’t like the one we had.”
Murphy also discerns the ideological differences that are present, in the struggle, when he notes, “We now have a governor with a much more negative view of government and the public employees who serve that government, while keeping a legislative majority in the control of a party that sees government as a positive force in society.”
The interplay between the governor and the attorney general over paychecks can effect over 82,000 Illinois state employees,(with vendors facing delayed payments) and the specter of a much smaller paycheck doesn’t bode well for both individuals and families, but Roberta Lynch, executive director of Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, (AFSCME) that represents the bulk of state workers said that they are “prepared to take legal action to ensure that they are paid for their work on time and in full.”
Murphy commented that “the disagreement over whether workers will get paid in the absence of a budget, or more precisely, ‘ appropriated funds’, has been faced before. Federal law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, requires that workers be paid for work done at least at the minimum wage, unless they are exempted (primarily elected, appointed or managerial persons).”
As the attorney general remembered in earlier reports, he reminds us that, “In 2007 a state court held that in order to avoid violating the federal law, all workers should be paid. Since the state claimed it could not in timely fashion adjust all the 45,000 workers’ salaries, they were paid their regular amounts. Whether that could happen again will depend on the courts.”
Time is not on the side of either the governor, or the legislature, and the last month or so has seen a stalemate, but as Murphy noted “the governor will get most of the blame especially if he is insisting on non-budgetary changes.”