SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois’ Republican governor and the state’s largest employee union moved Monday to avoid a partial government shutdown, with the union saying members will continue to show up for work even if the state begins operating without a budget and the governor pledging to do what he can to ensure they don’t miss a paycheck.
But a new fight appeared to be taking shape between Gov. Bruce Rauner — typically seen as an enemy of organized labor — and the Democratic attorney general, who said workers can’t be paid until the governor and Democrats who run the Legislature pass a new budget.
The back-and-forth is the latest in a months-long fight between Rauner and majority Democrats over how to resolve Illinois’ massive financial problems and — more recently — who will take the blame if state government begins grinding to a halt and critical services are cut off.
The two sides have been deadlocked over how to eliminate a deficit that’s the largest of any state in the U.S. Illinois already is billions behind in paying its bills and has the nation’s worst-funded state pensions, with a more than $100 billion shortfall.
Without a new budget in place by the Wednesday start of the new fiscal year, some 65,000 employees face the prospect of missing paychecks starting in mid-July. That raised fears workers would stay home and some government operations would cease.
Gov. Bruce Rauner worked to alleviate those concerns, saying in a memo sent to state workers and provided to The Associated Press that “State employees will be paid for their work.”
“I will do everything within my power,” he continued. “Our lawyers are working hard to ensure that all employees will be paid on their scheduled pay dates.”
But Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose father is the Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, said a 25-year-old appellate court decision flatly stated that cutting checks without an approved fiscal plan violates the Illinois Constitution.
“Even a court cannot order all of these payments to be made,” Lisa Madigan said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 said its employees will remain on the job and the union also is looking at its legal options. They also pressed Rauner and lawmakers to ink a budget deal, noting critical services such as mental health care and aid to seniors and children will be cut off if there’s no spending plan in place.
“The current situation can’t go on indefinitely,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Roberta Lynch said in a statement.
Majority Democrats want Rauner to approve a tax increase to eliminate a nearly $4 billion shortfall without making severe cuts to programs such as Medicaid.
But Rauner, a businessman, first wants Democrats to approve measures that would make the state friendlier to business and help him weaken labor unions’ influence in Illinois the way Republican Gov. Scott Walker did in neighboring Wisconsin.
Labor unions and Democrats suspect Rauner’s main motivation is to put additional pressure on public-employee unions, which are in the midst of negotiations for a new contract to replace an agreement that was set to expire Tuesday but has been extended by one month.
Rauner’s office says he’s “committed to bargaining in good faith” and simply trying to improve the business climate and create new jobs in a state desperately in need of reforms.
The General Assembly plans to be in session Tuesday and Wednesday. Michael Madigan has invited 15 Rauner cabinet members to explain their preparations for entering the 2016 fiscal year without new money — a situation he’s dubbed a “Rauner-imposed government shutdown.”
The speaker was unimpressed by Rauner’s paycheck pronouncement.
Making the promise, Michael Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, merely telegraphs “disruption, both of state services and the payment of state employees.”
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago, was miffed. Rauner vetoed outright most of the budget that Democrats sent him. Democrats have pointed out he could have used his executive power to approve just enough spending to keep government going while negotiations continue.
“He had choices,” Phelon said. “Yet now he wants us to see him as the savior of the state employees’ paychecks.”
Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor and Sara Burnett at http://twitter.com/sara_burnett
Burnett reported from Chicago.