SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that former Gov. Pat Quinn was correct in 2011 when he denied state workers promised pay raises because lawmakers had not appropriated the money.
The court’s 6-1 decision is another twist in a 5-year-old debacle that serves as a subplot to the state’s long-running fiscal crisis. Some workers have gotten their money, thousands more haven’t.
The ruling reversed earlier conclusions that 30,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ state council were due negotiated raises, which the union a year earlier had already agreed to delay because of the budget mess.
Justice Mary Jane Theis, writing the court’s opinion, shelved AFSCME’s argument that requiring a legislative appropriation would render contract negotiations hollow.
“Some collective bargaining agreements have made wage increases expressly contingent on legislative appropriation,” Theis wrote.
The amount owed by 2014 was $112 million. Complicating matters, some workers got paid as money became available. Others benefited from a $50 million appropriation lawmakers OK’d that spring. But about $60 million has yet to be paid out to about 24,000 employees, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. Each is owed an average of $2,500.
Justice Thomas Kilbride dissented from the idea that appropriation authority trumps contract obligations. He said the high court has nullified state pension bailout plans in part because of the Constitution’s contract clause. He likened the broken pay raise promise to another among the $8 billion in unpaid bills the state has racked up because Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on a budget.
“Allowing the state to extinguish contractual obligations by failing to appropriate funds is fiscally dangerous,” Kilbride wrote. “The majority opinion interjects uncertainty into the state’s responsibility for its contracts and will likely impair its ability to secure future contracts.”
AFSCME’s generous 2008 contract with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich awarded wage increases totaling 15.25 percent over four years. But under a deal worked out with Quinn in January 2010, AFSCME agreed to defer contractually required wage increases in a cost-cutting plan that ultimately saved the state $400 million and spared 2,500 people from potential layoffs.
“Someone who works for a living — in this instance, to protect public health, ensure safe prisons or care for the disabled — should be paid what they are owed for the work they have done,” AFSCME executive director Roberta Lynch said in a statement. “These are by far state government’s oldest unpaid bills.”