SPRINGFIELD — The question of whether to continue paying government workers during the Illinois budget stalemate will surface again this week. A court will take up the state attorney general's motion to halt payments and lawmakers will consider a threat by Gov. Bruce Rauner to veto one of two proposals to keep them going.
A judge in St. Clair County on Thursday is scheduled to hear Attorney General Lisa Madigan's request to end paychecks until the state breaks its nearly two-year-long budget gridlock. She is asking the judge to reverse a previous court order requiring Illinois to pay state employees even in the absence of a budget, arguing that stopping pay is constitutional and will hasten a budget agreement.
House Democrats and Republicans each say they agree that paychecks should continue and have launched competing legislation as a precaution, to avoid a government shutdown if Madigan's motion succeeds.
But Rauner on Thursday threatened to veto the Democrats' plan, which he said was only temporary. On the other hand, the Republican proposal to keep the payments going longer is unlikely to be approved by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
In a video sent to state workers, Rauner on Thursday repeated his refrain that Madigan — the daughter of longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan — is trying to "shut down the government." He condemned the Democratic proposal, which would appropriate funds for state agencies to continue paying employees through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, calling it a "crisis shutdown" that would help Democrats pass a tax increase.
Speaker Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, said Friday that the governor's response is "incomprehensible" because the original version of the rival Republican proposal would have guaranteed state employee pay through the same date. An amended Republican plan would keep the paychecks going indefinitely.
The Democratic bill's sponsor, Rep. Sue Scherer of Decatur, issued a statement arguing that her bill was intended to prevent a government shutdown. But her statement also referred to a comment the governor made when he was campaigning for office suggesting that a government shutdown might be necessary to get Illinois functioning properly again.
The text of the Republican measure would also put the governor's office and state agencies in charge of deciding how much money employees receive.
"This is not the time to give the governor a blank check and say 'do what you want,' " Scherer said Friday.
Attorney General Madigan filed her motion in January to stop the $400 million-a-month payroll, arguing the state Constitution stipulates that money should not be spent unless lawmakers have passed legislation to OK it.
The bills are HB2803 and HB1798.