Making a play to force an end to the state government’s budget impasse, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Thursday filed court papers seeking to stop state workers’ pay by the end of February unless Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly approve a spending plan.
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, including public universities and social service not-for-profits.
In the filing, Madigan asks the court to end the injunction — dissolving Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s power to authorize payments to state employees — on Feb. 28.
Madigan argues that the preliminary injunction filed last year to continue state workers’ pay “has removed much of the urgency for the Legislature and the governor to act on a budget.”
“During this long impasse, the Illinois Supreme Court overruled the sole legal basis for the St. Clair County Court’s order to allow state operations to continue without an appropriation,” Madigan said. “With a new legislative session now under way, this is an appropriate time to ask the Circuit Court to reconsider.”
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly called the filing “disappointing” and said the administration is urging Madigan to reconsider.
“It’s disappointing to see any move to stop employee pay and disrupt government services, especially now as the Senate is on the verge of a bipartisan agreement to enact a balanced budget with changes to the system,” Kelly said. “This filing seeks to directly harm thousands of employee families and even more who rely on our dedicated state workers everyday.”
Senate leaders have filed a “great bargain” package — albeit one with many moving parts — in order to try to end the impasse. Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno on Thursday questioned the timing of the filing, and what it may do do those negotiations.
“The legislature has been involved in very public, delicate negotiations,” Radogno said. “The timing of this action could create an unnecessary crisis that could derail real compromise.”
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin too questioned the timing, saying it undermines lawmakers’ duty to negotiate a bipartisan solution.
A spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, however, said the filing adds “urgency” to the deal.
“The Senate president has said that there is an urgent need to have a budget and this would appear to add to that sense of urgency,” spokesman John Patterson said.
In response to the motion, Mendoza put the blame squarely on Rauner’s shoulders, saying state workers wouldn’t face a threat of no pay if he had proposed a balanced budget in 2015 or 2016.
“Due to Gov. Rauner’s abdication of his constitutional executive duties, our state finances continue to be managed almost wholly by court orders and judge edicts,” Mendoza said in a statement. “It’s shameful that under his administration, the fifth largest state in the country is forced to operate like a bankrupt business.”
Still, Mendoza, who campaigned on a pledge that she would withhold legislator pay to prioritize the most vulnerable, said she would abide by all court rulings as Madigan pursues the court action.
The Illinois Republican Party said in a response that Mendoza and “every Democrat in the state” who claims to be independent of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan should denounce the “tactics” and stand by state employees. The party also questioned the timing of the ruling.
Lisa Madigan is the daughter of Speaker Madigan, Rauner’s political nemesis. State Republicans seized on that.
“While serious bipartisan negotiations have accelerated in the Senate, it is outrageous that Lisa Madigan tonight decided to put Speaker Madigan’s power politics ahead of hard-working families in an effort to shut down state government,” state GOP spokesman Steven Yaffe said in a statement. “Only a Madigan would try to disrupt bipartisan momentum in a matter that threatens to cripple government services and hurt state workers and their families.”
Steve Brown, spokesman for the speaker, called the Republican Party’s comments “off base” and “not surprising.”
“The attorney general is her own person and will do what she chooses is the best thing to do,” Brown said, adding there is no basis to the questioning of the timing of the filing.
“They’ve [The Senate leaders] set their deadline. They are moving on their plan. I don’t see the connection frankly,” Brown said.
There have been other moves to apply pressure on the Legislature. Mendoza’s predecessor — Republican Leslie Munger, who was appointed by Rauner — announced last April she would be delaying lawmaker paychecks, saying it was unfair for them to be paid while others were left without them.
And in 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn sought to do the same. Quinn vetoed out legislative pay from the state budget, saying it would be suspended until the Legislature sent him a pension reform bill. Both Cullerton and Speaker Madigan sued on the basis that Quinn’s act was unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 — which is fighting the declaration of an impasse with the Rauner administration — said it is “shocked and extremely disappointed” that Attorney General Madigan would take the action.
“It is fundamental that everyone who works must be paid on time and in full, but this filing throws that basic commitment into question for state employees,” spokesman Anders Lindall said.
It’s unclear when the motion will be heard.