The battle over the state budget continued during the week as House Speaker Michael Madigan and Democrats in his chamber muscled through an unbalanced and unconstitutional one-month budget, though they still refuse to work with Governor Bruce Rauner and legislative Republicans on pro-jobs economic reforms that must be part of the budget discussion.
Republicans fight for lasting change; Democrats respond with temporary Band-Aid
The standoff continued between reform-minded Republicans and status-quo Democrats in the Legislature, amid questions and lawsuits about what the state can – and can’t – spend in the absence of a budget.
Spending cuts are not going to be easy, but they are necessary and should be shared by everyone. Every little bit helps. I have refused a state pension and share my district office with Representative Keith Wheeler of North Aurora to save taxpayers’ money. And while each Senator has traditionally had his/her own legislative assistant, I felt one legislative aide could easily handle two senators. So when Senator Chris Nybo of Elmhurst was newly elected, I suggested we share a legislative aide, and Chris readily agreed. That probably saves taxpayers about $50,000 per year when you consider salary, benefits and occupancy costs. In addition, I returned $11,062.66 from my Fiscal Year 2015 district budget to the state’s coffers, and expect to be able to do even better during Fiscal Year 2016.
On July 8, Governor Rauner introduced legislation once again aimed at improving the state’s business climate and finding compromise with the Democrat legislative leaders.
Incorporating specific requests from President John Cullerton and Senate Democrats, Governor Rauner introduced revised legislation for a property tax freeze – which includes Democrat language to change school funding in Illinois, and an updated compromise bill on workers’ compensation reform.
Governor Rauner also introduced an updated version of pro-jobs legislation that would cut down on frivolous lawsuits and renewed his call for a vote on redistricting reform and term limits. However, instead of returning to the negotiating table or offering compromises of their own, the House instead passed a one-month spending plan that includes none of Governor Rauner’s reforms.
Because their overall spending plan runs nearly $4 billion ahead of expected tax revenues, it will inevitably lead to one of two options: state services and programs running out of money long before the year’s end; or the immediate need for more money in the state’s coffers. Both Governor Rauner and Republican lawmakers have said that any discussion about a tax hike shouldn’t come before structural reforms that create jobs and boost the economy.
Budget stalemate effects
As Fiscal Year 2016 began July 1 without a state budget, many people have questions regarding what state services and programs will be impacted if the budget stalemate continues.
Schools will start on time, as Governor Rauner did sign the education funding portion of the budget. The education appropriation was the lone piece of the Democrats’ budget proposal that he signed into law. Governor Rauner vetoed the majority of the budget because it was $4 billion out of balance.
Emergency services will remain intact and function fully, such as the Illinois State Police and emergency management personnel. Prisons will remain open and prison guards will be on duty like normal. Local governments will continue to receive their normal funding transfers from state income taxes, sales taxes, and motor-fuel taxes.
Current state employees’ health, dental, or life insurance will not be affected, even if paychecks are delayed. As long as the employee continues to work, insurance premiums will be taken accordingly. An employee’s workers’ compensation will also not be affected. Also, if an employee is enrolled in the Deferred Compensation Program, as long as the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, payroll deductions for Deferred Compensation should be taken accordingly. Employees enrolled in the Commuter Savings Program will also continue to receive the benefit under this program.
Benefits for retirees will not be impacted by the budget stalemate. All retired state employees will continue receiving their pension checks and health benefits, as these are considered continuing appropriations and do not need to be appropriated every year.
State employee pay sparks conflicting court rulings:
A July 9 ruling from a St. Louis-area judge would allow Comptroller Leslie Munger to pay state employees in full, even without a state budget in place. The ruling out of St. Clair County Circuit Court contradicts an earlier ruling from a Cook County judge, which denied a request from the Comptroller to continue to pay all state workers their full salary during the budget stalemate.
Following the St. Clair ruling, the Comptroller’s office issued a statement confirming it will begin processing July 15 payroll checks. However, the issue is continuing to play out in court, as the Attorney General’s office has indicated it will appeal the July 9 ruling.
The St. Clair ruling was issued in response to a case brought forth by state employees’ unions, arguing that failure to pay workers their full wages violates their collective bargaining agreements. The St. Clair judge agreed, and ruled that the state should pay all workers if it would be impossible to separate union and nonunion salaries, as the Comptroller maintains.
Further complicating matters, an appellate court on July 9 began consideration of an appeal of the July 7 Cook County ruling. The appellate court ordered the Comptroller to hold off on making any payments until they have a chance to review that case. The Cook County court had found that the state could only pay certain state employees federal minimum wage until a budget is in place; the Comptroller’s office said that the state’s archaic financial system would make that impossible.