Illinois lawmakers can avoid a government shutdown and a bad budget deal by passing an appropriations measure
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is seeking a court order to stop paychecks to state employees. Many speculate she is trying to force the General Assembly into a budget deal – one that would be bad for Illinoisans. But the General Assembly doesn’t have to be bullied into a bad budget deal. It can pass an appropriations measure to fund state worker payrolls and keep government from shutting down.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan took Illinois by surprise Jan. 26 when she filed a petition seeking court approval to stop paying state employees.
The governor and government-worker unions alike decried Madigan’s legal maneuver as political interference at a time when the state needs less politics and more action.
Speculation is rampant that Madigan filed the petition to shut down state government and cause a crisis, forcing the General Assembly into a budget deal with multibillion-dollar tax hikes that would devastate Illinoisans.
But there is no need for either a government shutdown or a bad budget deal. The General Assembly can avoid both by passing a continuing appropriations measure.
The legal background
In 2015, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sought a court order to ensure that state employees would keep getting paid during the budget impasse. A St. Clair County Circuit Court complied, and since then, state employees have been paid under that court order.
But in the meantime, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a decision holding that the state could not pay AFSCME workers raises promised by former Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration because the General Assembly had not appropriated funding for this.
Madigan is now pointing to that Supreme Court decision, asking the St. Clair County Circuit Court to reverse course in the AFSCME case. She argues that because the General Assembly has not appropriated funds for state worker pay, the state cannot pay.
The better answer
The General Assembly doesn’t need to rush into a bad budget deal in order to avoid a government shutdown. Lawmakers can pass an appropriations measure to fund state worker pay without a full budget.
Even if the St. Clair County Circuit Court goes along with Madigan’s request, the pay stoppage would not take effect until Feb. 28. Until that time, state workers will be paid. And that gives the General Assembly time in which to put together and pass an appropriations measure.
In response to Madigan’s petition, at least two state representatives – Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, and Sue Scherer, D-Decatur – introduced bills that would ensure state workers get paid even during the budget impasse.
Such a measure would not be unprecedented. In 2015, the General Assembly passed an education appropriations measure that would keep K-12 schools open and operating during the budget impasse. That same year, Gov. Bruce Rauner expressed support for a continuing appropriations measure for state worker pay.
Throughout Illinois’ budget gridlock, politicians have been immune to worries about their pay. In 2014, the General Assembly passed a law ensuring that legislator salaries are funded.
To be sure, Madigan’s petition to the St. Clair County Circuit Court is loaded with political implications. But this isn’t just politics. Shutting down the government would hurt workers. It would hurt families relying on the state for social services. It would hurt all Illinoisans who depend on core governmental services.
But the General Assembly has a way out. And lawmakers shouldn’t let Madigan’s political maneuverings convince them that a bad budget deal loaded with multibillion-dollar tax hikes is the only option.