Illinois Budget Battle Approaches Meltdown

     CHICAGO (CN) – The Illinois Attorney General stepped into the state’s budget battle, asking a judge whether the 82,000 state employees can get their full paychecks though lawmakers have not approved a 2016 budget.
     Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued state Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger on July 1 in Cook County Court. The state’s fiscal year ended on June 30.
     Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, vetoed most of the Democratic Legislature’s budget plan on June 25. He signed only portions of the bill, to allow education funding to continue.
     Democrats acknowledge the plan is more than $3 billion short on revenue, but refuse to make the drastic social service cuts demanded by Rauner.
     Madigan asked the court to rule either a) that the Comptroller may process payroll obligations to meet federal minimum wage requirements; or b) that state employees cannot be paid at all until a budget is passed.
     Madigan is the daughter of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
     Illinois’s 82,104 state employees are paid $4.8 billion a year, according to the State Journal-Register.
     The three biggest departments receive 49 percent of the outlay: Human Services ($894 million), Corrections ($874 million), and Transportation ($56 million). State police account for 9.6 percent of the payroll, or $256 million.
     Rauner has called for state employees to receive full salaries during the budget impasse.
     But Comptroller Munger, a Rauner appointee, sought and failed to reach an agreement with Madigan to allow the state to continue issuing paychecks.
     The first paychecks for fiscal year 2016 are due to be issued on July 15.
     Madigan said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit: “I am bringing this action to ensure that legally supported expenditures can continue to be made and to address the question of how the state payroll is legally managed during the budget impasse.
     “Our state’s most vulnerable residents deserve access to the critical services that their lives depend on. Taxpayers deserve to benefit from the government operations they help fund, and state employees deserve to be paid. Unfortunately, without a budget, it is difficult to ensure these payments are made.”
     Munger claims that paying employees just a part of their salary, up to the federal minimum wage – which Madigan says is the only legal expenditure that can be made without a budget – would be a “logistical impossibility.”
     The Legislature has 15 calendar days to override Rauner’s veto, but “payments for state obligations for the 2016 fiscal year are coming due imminently and before completion of the veto override timeframe,” the lawsuit states.
     Madigan asked the court to authorize payments for operations of the judicial branch, obligations required by consent decrees, and obligations required by state participation in federal programs, such as Medicare.
     “It is my hope that by securing a court order clarifying these expenditures, the Legislature and the governor can enact a budget to fund state government for the new fiscal year. If not, I fear those who need the state’s services the most will suffer the greatest,” Madigan concluded her statement.
     Of the four biggest department payrolls, state police get the highest average salary, $88,500, followed by prison guards, $63,600; transportation workers, $55,700; and Human Services, $52,200, according to the Journal-Register.
     Circuit court judges’ payroll ranks seventh on the list, at $162 million, an average salary of $171,600.

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