Rauner lawyer urges Mendoza to fight state worker pay filing

SHARE Rauner lawyer urges Mendoza to fight state worker pay filing

Susana Mendoza celebrates her victory with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of State Jesse White in November. File Photo. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s top lawyer on Monday urged Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza to keep paying state workers, even if a temporary order requiring the paychecks is tossed out.

And the Republican governor’s lawyer also asked the comptroller to retain her own independent counsel to fight off fellow Democrat Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s motion to halt state employee pay.

Madigan last week filed court papers seeking to stop state workers’ pay by the end of February unless a spending plan is approved. Her request seeks to dissolve a preliminary injunction that allowed tens of thousands of state workers to be paid during the impasse, which has threatened or stalled funding to a variety of entities.

Many viewed the Madigan filing as a power play and questioned its timing. In the filing, she argues that the order to continue state workers’ pay “has removed much of the urgency for the Legislature and the governor to act on a budget.” But the Rauner administration last week urged her to reconsider, and without naming her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, questioned whether her filing is meant to create a “crisis.” Rauner has been trying to encourage a Senate “grand bargain” plan — crafted by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno — because it includes a revenue package and some of the governor’s preferred reforms.

The Senate leaders say they want to take action on those bills as soon as next week.

The Rauner administration’s letter, sent Monday, appears to be a way to push Mendoza to take a stance on the attorney general’s filing. Rauner spent millions to try to help his appointee, Comptroller Leslie Munger, fend off Mendoza in the November election — making the race the most expensive in the state. Mendoza, a vocal critic of Rauner’s, last week placed blame on the potential for state workers to lose their pay on the governor’s shoulders’ alone. And the Democratic comptroller has said she’ll abide by any court orders.

In a letter written to Mendoza’s chief legal counsel, Rauner’s general counsel Dennis Murashko writes that Mendoza should follow in her predecessor’s footsteps in retaining independent counsel and present in court arguments why state employees pay should not be stopped.

Munger retained her own counsel in 2015 and asked the attorney general to join with her in seeking an agreed court order to let state workers get paid. Madigan maintained that federal law required the national minimum wage rate be paid to “essential” state workers during the impasse. But state officials said it would take a long time to determine which employees would qualify as “essential” and get the lower pay.

At the time, the Rauner administration criticized Madigan, saying state employees deserved their full paychecks.

Madigan sought clarification from a Cook County judge about what bills could be paid during the impasse. Unions filed suit in St. Clair County to require the comptroller to pay union member wages in the absence of a spending plan. Days later, a temporary restraining order was issued, requiring that all state employees be paid their full wages in the absence of a budget.

The motion filed by Madigan last week specifically notes that Mendoza does not join in the lawsuit.

“After all, dissolving the TRO would leave the matters entirely in Comptroller Mendoza’s hands,” Murashko wrote. “There will be no court order telling her what to do or not to do. Murashko asks that Mendoza comply with federal and state laws until Madigan has specified which employees “are not necessary to fulfill these duties and must be sent home.”

Mendoza spokesman Abdon Pallasch on Monday said the dispute could be solved outside of the courtroom — if the governor proposes his own budget.

“As Comptroller Mendoza said Thursday, the Governor could very easily end this court action by fulfilling his constitutional duty to propose a balanced budget, and then work with the General Assembly to get it passed into law,” Pallasch said.

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