Cook County judge rules some state workers get minimum wage in absence of budget

Heather Weiner

Heather Weiner is formerly the Illinois Policy’s Government Affairs Staff Attorney.

Heather Weiner
July 7, 2015

Cook County judge rules some state workers get minimum wage in absence of budget

Figuring out who qualifies for the payments will be a logistical nightmare, according to the state comptroller’s office.

As the stalemate over the lack of a state budget continues in Springfield, another battle has been brewing over whether to pay state workers in the meantime – an argument that shifted recently from political rhetoric to the courtroom.

Judge Diane Larsen of the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled on July 7 that the only state workers who can be paid at this time are those covered under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. They will be paid at the federal minimum-wage rate and receive overtime pay.

In the last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner stated that he would make sure state workers continue to get paid for their work during the time it takes for the Illinois General Assembly to appropriate funds for state agencies through a budget.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan responded with a memo indicating that the governor and comptroller do not have the authority to cut these payroll checks in the absence of a budget because it would violate the doctrine of separation of powers. She asserted that the only payments that could be made were minimum-wage payments required for some state employees that are covered by the federal law.

Madigan sent the question to court in Cook County by filing a complaint asking for a declaratory judgment on the governor’s ability to pay workers, which Larsen confirmed.

State Comptroller Leslie Munger’s office, however, claims the logistics of figuring out which employees qualify for these federal minimum-wage payments and how much they should be paid could take as long as a year to sort out.

State lawmakers will receive their paychecks no matter what happens or how long this budget impasse lasts. That’s because in 2014, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton worked together to introduce and pass a law ensuring lawmaker salaries and operating expenses would be paid even if a balanced budget was not passed on time.

Even so, this ruling puts even more pressure on the General Assembly and Rauner to work out a budget for fiscal year 2016, a process that has been riddled with politics and games thus far.

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