Local Government

Lawmakers differ on lawsuit to stop Illinois state workers' pay without budget

Shaw Media file photo  
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan speaks with attendees Oct. 8, 2014, at a Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Roundtable in Crystal Lake. Madigan filed a motion Thursday with a downstate judge to end a court order by Feb. 28 that allowed state employees to continue to get paid.
Shaw Media file photo Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan speaks with attendees Oct. 8, 2014, at a Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Roundtable in Crystal Lake. Madigan filed a motion Thursday with a downstate judge to end a court order by Feb. 28 that allowed state employees to continue to get paid.

Several of McHenry County’s lawmakers have differing opinions on Thursday’s move by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to suspend all state employees’ paychecks until the state approves a budget.

Madigan filed a motion with a downstate judge to end a court order by Feb. 28 that allowed state employees to continue to get paid, despite a budget impasse that has lasted almost two years. The move came the same day that the Senate adjourned without voting on a budget package hammered out by its top Democratic and Republican members – one that contains tax increases combined with some reforms.

State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, called Madigan’s motion a political move that, if successful, likely would mean a bad budget getting rammed through to avoid a government shutdown. McConchie is not in favor of the proposed Senate budget – he said taxpayers and businesses would pay too much and get too little in return.

“You would have just the next five weeks to get [a budget] all the way through the process to something the governor would sign,” McConchie said.

But to state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Cary, one of the most vocal opponents of the Senate proposal – he calls it “the last nail in the state’s coffin – Madigan’s move is welcome on basic principle that government should not spend money without a budget.

“I think it’s a positive thing to make sure that we can’t spend money unless it is appropriated,” McSweeney said. “I think it forces us to do our jobs. We haven’t done our jobs the past two years.”

Illinois has been without a permanent budget since July 2015 – a six-month stopgap spending plan expired Jan. 1 of this year. The Democratic Party leaders who control the state House and Senate are at loggerheads with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who will not approve a deficit budget and will not entertain talk of tax increases unless they are coupled with some of the pro-business and ethics reforms he ran on in 2014.

However, although the state has no permanent budget, a host of consent decrees and court rulings – such as the one Madigan is seeking to eliminate – have put most state spending on autopilot. While 90 percent of the state’s spending is continuing without a budget, the budget impasse has had a devastating effect on social service agencies and vendors doing business with Illinois. The state’s backlog of unpaid bills now stands at more than $11 billion.

The Senate proposal in its most recent incarnation raises the individual tax rate from 3.75 percent of income to 4.99 percent, just below the 5 percent rate levied under a temporary four-year increase signed by former governor Pat Quinn. The corporate tax under the latest version would increase from 5.25 percent to 7 percent, which doesn’t include the 2.5 percent replacement tax – the proposal also includes a plan to phase in an $11 minimum wage over the next five years.

But it also slaps a host of other taxes on Illinois. Proposals include a payroll tax to be levied on every business based on how many people they employ, a state tax on entertainment, and an expansion of the state sales tax to include a number of services. It also includes a plan to borrow $7 billion to pay down the bill backlog and a major expansion of riverboat gambling.

In exchange, the Senate plan includes a two-year statewide freeze on property taxes, reforms to worker’s compensation rules and a fix to the state’s pension program that supporters hope will pass constitutional muster.

McConchie said he questioned the timing of the attorney general’s move, and wondered if it was a tactic to deal House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has not been involved in the Senate leadership’s budget work, into the process. Lisa Madigan is the house speaker’s daughter.

He is not alone in his criticism – the court filing since Thursday has been condemned by Rauner’s office, rank-and-file Republican lawmakers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 that represents many state workers.

But while McSweeney said that he wants state workers to get paid for the work they do, the state should follow its Constitution.

“I have been unable to understand why we pay state workers when it’s not appropriated in a budget. It’s a mystery to me,” he said.

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