Rauner vows legal fight to keep state workers’ paychecks coming

Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address in the Illinois House chamber Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017 in Springfield. File Photo. (Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday emailed state workers vowing to use “all available legal options” to make sure they are paid — a day after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a motion seeking to halt paychecks if no budget deal is reached by the end of February.

“Our administration will use all available legal options to continue pay and avoid any disruption to government services,” Rauner wrote. “I am hopeful Comptroller [Susana] Mendoza will stand with state employees — just as Comptroller [Leslie] Munger did previously — and support our legal arguments to continue employee pay.”

Rauner also wrote that Madigan’s filing “seeks to directly harm thousands of employee families and even more who rely on your hard work every day.”

At a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event in Chicago Friday morning, Rauner told reporters he wants the attorney general to reconsider the filing, and without naming her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, questioned whether her filing is meant to create a “crisis.”

“I hope this is not a direct attempt to cause a crisis, to force a shutdown of the government to force another stopgap spending plan, short-term, unbalanced, incomplete, as a step to force a tax hike without any changes to our broken system,” Rauner said.

The governor said he hopes the court case doesn’t “block the great work that the Senate is doing” in its “grand bargain” budget proposal, a series of bills designed to end the budget impasse. Those bills have yet to come up for votes on the Senate floor, and would still need approval from the House before they could be sent to Rauner.

“Please do not take steps to disrupt the Senate’s work,” Rauner said. “And please respect the fact that we are making progress.”

Responding to questions about why the motion was filed as the Senate tries to end the impasse, the attorney general’s office said “now is the best time,” amid the ongoing state budget crisis.

“The claim that our filing has created a crisis in state government ignores the reality that the nonprofit organizations, grantees, vendors and universities have been living in crisis for a year and a half,” spokeswoman Maura Possley said. “Some of these organizations that provide critical services to the people of Illinois have been irreparably harmed during this impasse.”

Possley said the filing does recognize the difficulty of getting a full budget – adding that Lisa Madigan is asking for the end of February to give legislators and the governor more time.

“Asking the court to impose a deadline for the governor and Legislature to do their jobs will solve this crisis, not create it,” Possley said. “The governor and Legislature can resolve this situation at any time, and they have had ample time to do that.”

Although no court dates have yet to be set, Rauner’s selected legal team will be able to respond to the motion as part of the briefing process. The attorney general’s office said the case can go up the legal chain up to the Illinois Supreme Court if need be, on either side of the case.

The motion filed in St. Clair County Circuit Court seeks to stop state workers’ pay by the end of February unless Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly approve a spending plan.

It also comes ahead of a strike authorization vote for members of the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees Council 31, with voting opening on Monday and continuing through mid-February.

They are the state’s largest public employee union and are embroiled in a contract dispute with the Rauner administration after an impasse was declared.

Lisa Madigan’s 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. Rauner wants any budget deal to include elements of his “Turnaround Agenda,” including a temporary property-tax freeze, term limits and changes in workers’ compensation law.

Rauner’s administration, Republican leaders and the Illinois Republican Party questioned the timing of Lisa Madigan’s filing, since the Senate is working to come up with its “grand bargain” to end the impasse. For now, that deal includes a state income-tax hike from 3.75 percent to 4.99 percent on individuals. It also includes an increase in the corporate income tax from 5.25 percent to 7 percent.

Meanwhile, Speaker Madigan has said he wants to propose his own agenda with “aggressive economic reforms” that don’t hurt the middle class. That includes a reinstatement of the EDGE tax credit, a minimum wage hike and a tax on millionaires to fund schools.

Rauner on Friday described the millionaire tax as a potential “disaster” for the economy.

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