SPRINGFIELD — A pair of court decisions issued Friday means state Comptroller Leslie Munger can keep meeting the state’s payroll — for now.
Munger and Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration have argued the state should be allowed to make its regular payroll despite the lack of a state budget.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan, however, has argued the law allows only the payment of federal minimum wage, $7.25 hourly, to designated “essential employees.”
The first ruling to break in Munger’s favor on Friday came from the First District Appellate Court in Chicago.
That appeals court voided a Cook County judge’s temporary restraining order that would have kept Munger, R-Lincolnshire, from issuing regular payroll checks.
The appeals court said the circuit judge erred in two areas: not setting a specific time frame on the temporary restraining order and not balancing the hardships of all parties before issuing it.
The appellate court’s decision returns the case to Cook County Circuit Court for additional hearings.
Friday afternoon, the Illinois Supreme Court denied a motion to essentially join the Cook County case and a separate case on the same issue out of St. Clair County and take the matter up on direct appeal.
In the St. Clair County case, the circuit judge OK’d paying employees, saying the state’s failure to do so could violate constitutionally protected contractual agreements.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to immediately intervene likely means the two court cases will have to travel their individual legal paths if the Supreme Court might ultimately consider one or more appeals.
Munger welcomed the news, saying she would continue to pay state employees.
“Time will tell what, if any, additional court action occurs, but I remain confident that paying state employees for their work is the legal, fiscally responsible and right thing to do," she said in a news release.
Citing the initial St. Clair County ruling, Munger had recently chosen to continue the payroll process to issue mid-month paychecks to about 6,700 employees who otherwise would not have been paid.
A spokeswoman for Madigan, D-Chicago, said the attorney general’s office expects additional proceedings.
The attorney general also continued to say the Legislature — including her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, also a Chicago Democrat — and the Republican governor should fulfill their duties and enact a budget.
Failure to do so, the attorney general’s office said, would only cause more uncertainty.
Rauner-led Republicans and legislative Democrats have been unable to reach a deal on a budget for fiscal year 2016, which began July 1.
As a result, the state is into its third week without the authority to meet many of its obligations. The governor did, however, sign the budget for primary and secondary education that the Legislature had sent him.
But Rauner has refused to sign the bulk of the Democrats’ spending plan. He says it’s $4 billion in the red and fails to meet the state constitution’s demand that spending and revenue be balanced.
Democrats complain Rauner and the GOP have been unwilling to work with them on the annual budget until the governor gets movement on his own agenda items, which they don’t consider directly related to the budget.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network, a division of the Illinois Policy Institute.