Most state workers pay frozen

Some employees only eligible for federal minimum wage

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger plans to appeal a judge’s ruling that state employees who work during a no-budget shutdown can be paid only minimum federal wage — $7.25 an hour — plus overtime.

Munger, R-Lincolnshire, said she was disappointed by and respectfully disagrees with the ruling issued by Judge Diane Joan Larsen on Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

“My office will soon file an appeal to today’s decision,” the comptroller said.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, D-Chicago, whose office had argued that the federal minimum wage was all that the law allowed, said there was no joy in the decision.

“This entire situation has been caused by the failure of the governor and the Legislature to enact a budget,” Madigan said in her own statement.

“I absolutely want state employees to be paid their full wages,” the attorney general said. “But the Illinois Constitution and case law are clear: The state cannot pay employees without a budget. The judge’s order reaffirms this.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner supports an appeal.

“The governor believes state workers should be paid in full,” said Lance Trover, communications director for the Winnetka Republican.

The governor has asked the state’s personnel branch, the Department of Central Management Services, “to explore all of its legal options, including seeking an expedited appeal of this order or other emergency relief,” Trover said.

The state has scores of outdated and incompatible payroll systems, and one of the core arguments made by Munger’s officer and by CMS was that the state would unable to identify and split out those employees deemed “essential,” or who absolutely must work during no-budget shutdown.

That remains the case, said comptroller’s spokesman Rich Carter, adding, ““it will be virtually impossible for us to make those payroll determinations.”

That means the immediate impact of Larsen’s ruling is that about 6,700 state employees paid under what’s known as anticipated payroll have seen their last paycheck for a while unless there is a budget deal, a successful appeal or a new court order.

About 58,000 state employees are to be paid for time already worked through June, which was in the 2015 budget year, and they will see checks July 15 but not afterward unless there’s another development, Carter said.

Employees who work and are not paid, or who are paid only minimum wage, would get the balance of their wages when a budget deal is reached.

There are exceptions to Tuesday’s ruling.

Lawmakers, judges and some other legislative and judicial branch employees will be paid. Their payroll is authorized by what are known as continuing appropriations, meaning the tax funding flows through even in the absence of a working state budget.

Department of Children and Family Service employees working in programs covered under a previous consent decree will be paid, U.S. District Judge Jorge L. Alonso ruled Tuesday in his courtroom.

The state’s unionized employees intend to both appeal the decision in Cook County and to continue their own pending case on full and timely pay in St. Clair County.

“Public service workers in state government are on the job despite the lack of a state budget for the fiscal year that started July 1,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“They should be paid for their work on time and in full,” she said. “We are disappointed by the Cook County judge’s decision to the contrary, and we intend to appeal it.”

Lynch added the unions hope to appear before a judge in the St. Clair County case this week.

Larsen’s decision does allow other state payments in the absence of a state budget, among them:

  • Funds for obligations, excluding state employees, addressed in other consent decrees.
  • Debt service.
  • Local tax funds, including local government’s share of sales tax money.
  • State-funded retirement systems.
  • Certain payments to the Regional Transit Authority.
  • Most tax refunds.
  • Certain funds for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

Republicans led by Rauner and legislative Democrats have been unable this spring to reach a deal on a budget for fiscal year 2016, which began a week ago.

As a result, a partial government shutdown is expected to intensify as July continues to pass without an agreement.

Legislators were not thrilled with Tuesday’s ruling.

“We’re stuck with a pretty adverse ruling that makes things more difficult,” said Rep. Ron Sandack of Downer’s Grove, the GOP’s leader for debate on the House floor.

If there’s a silver lining to be seen in Tuesday’s ruling, he said, it would come in the form of additional pressure for everyone involved to bear down on a budget agreement.

“I really hate to see this,” said Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, a former state Department of Corrections employee.

“It’s the lack of compromise and negotiation that have put us in this position, and it’s certainly not the fault of the state employees or the people who depend on state services,” he said. “We need to get this done now.”

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