By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — The question of whether the state can pay employees during a no-budget shutdown became Thursday’s political football of the day.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Thursday announced she’d filed an action in Cook County Circuit Court asking the court for clarity on what the state can and cannot pay for given the lack of signed appropriations bills.
“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,” Madigan, D-Chicago, said in a statement.
But while Madigan and Comptroller Leslie Munger, R-Lincolnshire, are in agreement over several areas the state can and should pay for now, they are not entirely on the same page.
There seems to be no debate that the state must pay at least federal minimum wage to employees who work during a no-budget period. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act demands it.
But Munger and Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Winnetka, believe a 2007 case involving state employee pay allows for payment of full wages even without specific appropriations.
They also say the state’s multiple, antiquated systems cannot soon determine exactly which of the state’s 65,000 workers are “essential employees” and then figure out how to pay them only federal minimum, plus overtime, with the proper amounts for deductions and withholdings.
If paid only minimum wage, state workers would be paid the rest of their wages soon as budget is reached.
In a Wednesday letter to the attorney general, Munger asked Madigan to seek court permission for “additional payroll warrants or electronic payments to ensure that the requirements of the FLSA have been satisfied, including payroll warrants or electronic payments to State employees that may not be covered by the FLSA.”
The comptroller said the same wording was in an agreed upon court order from the 2007 case.
But Madigan’s filing does not appear to go that far.
For instance, the attorney general in one part of her filing seeks:
“A temporary and permanent injunction requiring the Comptroller to process payment vouchers for payrolls that meet only the minimum requirements of the FLSA or in the alternative an injunction enjoining the Comptroller from processing payroll vouchers until the enactment of appropriations statutes.”
The attorney general has argued the 2007 case cited by Munger and Rauner is not as controlling as they think and said the court noted it was not precedent setting.
Madigan earlier this week wrote, state constitution 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.”
Madigan spokeswoman Natalie Bauer on Thursday said the attorney general does want to see state employees paid.
“We absolutely want to see state employees paid,” Bauer said. “And we want to see service providers paid. All do the work of the state of Illinois, and they should be paid. But this problem cannot be solved through a lawsuit. It needs to be solved by reaching and enacting a budget.”
The attorney general’s office first priority in this matter is to help get funding to the state’s most vulnerable citizens, Bauer said.
For her part, Munger did not attribute political motives to the attorney general.
Asked during a news conference in Chicago if she was in agreement with the attorney general or if she wanted full payroll ability, Munger said, “I welcome the attorney general’s request of the court to give us some clarification on what we can and cannot pay.”
But given the state’s payroll systems, some of which date back to the 1970s, accurately chopping the payroll down to minimum wage would be a “logistical nightmare if even possible,” she added. “I believe that in order to comply the best course of action would be to simply pay those people in full.”