Will Lisa Madigan shut down Illinois government?

Austin Berg, Illinois Policy Institute Apr. 18, 2016, 9:08am


Only in Illinois.

As Illinois House of Representatives Speaker Mike Madigan locks horns with Gov. Bruce Rauner in a nearly 10-month long budget battle, a major power play has fallen into the lap of the speaker’s daughter Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in March that thousands of state government workers were not entitled to back-pay raises owed to them because those funds were never appropriated by the General Assembly. This puts Lisa Madigan in a position to force the state to stop paying state workers, since lawmakers have not yet passed a bill funding their salaries. Rather, they have been funded under a court order from a St. Clair County judge. The attorney general’s office is currently reviewing the state Supreme Court’s decision.

If Lisa Madigan decides to argue in court that the state must cease paying state workers and succeeds, government operations will grind to a halt, putting major pressure on Rauner to sign off on another unsustainable state budget that would likely subject Illinoisans to massive tax hikes with no real reform, long the priority of Speaker Madigan.

Interestingly, while state workers would go without paychecks, lawmakers would still take home their salaries.

Why? A law rammed through the General Assembly in 2014 under the watchful eye of the speaker.

Speaker Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton shepherded a law through the General Assembly exempting lawmaker salaries, operating expenses and pay increases from the annual appropriations process. In other words, these payments became “continuing appropriations,” meaning they must be specifically prohibited to stop their flowing to politicians’ pockets, and are not affected by the lack of a state budget.

The average salary for a state lawmaker in Illinois is more than $80,000, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. And that’s for what is legally considered a part-time job.

Should lawmakers choose to pass a budget, Madigan and Cullerton’s law prohibits year-to-year cuts to lawmaker salaries and operating expenses. No other office or agency of state government has this sort of privilege.

With the foresight to pass these protections under former Gov. Pat Quinn – before encountering reform-minded Gov. Bruce Rauner – why didn’t Madigan and Cullerton extend these privileges to the groups now trying to survive the budget impasse?

State politicians knew their own bottom lines might soon be on the chopping block, so they took them off the bargaining table altogether. If only state workers had been so lucky. Should Lisa Madigan move to stop state-worker pay, Rauner has called on the General Assembly to pass a continuing appropriation to fund those salaries.

Ultimately, the power rests with the attorney general. And Illinoisans must wait for her next move.

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