State payroll could be up to courts as budget impasse continues

SHARE State payroll could be up to courts as budget impasse continues

State workers wondering if they’ll be paid while Illinois goes without a spending plan will just have to wonder a little longer, it appears.

They’ll have to wait as the state’s attorney general and comptroller seek clear legal authority to make payroll — authority which didn’t exist Thursday — and as a political standoff in Springfield continues to prevent a state budget deal. Lawyers are expected in court Tuesday on the matter.

Bickering between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Legislature led Wednesday to Illinois kicking off its fiscal year with no spending plan in place. Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger said that means state workers could start missing paychecks as soon as July 15.

So Munger and Attorney General Lisa Madigan turned to the courts Thursday, with Madigan asking for an order that could let them make federal minimum wage payments until a spending deal is reached. Munger warned that’s “not a substitute for a budget.”

“By running our state via court order, we are ceding our responsibility to manage our state to the courts,” Munger said.

But their odds of success in the courts is not clear. Munger said the Fair Labor Standards Act requires the state to at least make minimum wage payments to “essential” employees — but she said Illinois’ payroll systems are so antiquated that sorting “essential” from “non-essential” might not be possible.

The comptroller also pointed to a court ruling during a 2007 budget impasse that allowed Illinois to make its full payroll only to the extent a payroll limited by FLSA requirements was not feasible.

“The circumstances we face today are no different than they were in 2007,” Munger said.

But the court in 2007 also made clear it did not seek to set a precedent, according to the attorney general’s office.

Munger said her office will continue to pay bills from the last fiscal year that ended this week and make certain payments required by law. She said local governments will also receive a majority of their funds. She said other court orders also allow the state to make payments to programs aiding needy families, the developmentally disabled, elderly and the mentally ill.

Without a budget or court action, though, Munger said the “first to feel the pinch” will likely be non-profits, social service agencies and small businesses who have been receiving expedited payments from the state.

But Munger — a Republican appointed to her job by Rauner after the death of former Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka — made sure to point out one group the state is legally required to pay during the budget stalemate: state lawmakers.

“The people who put us in this situation by failing to do their job will get their paychecks,” Munger said.

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