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Monday, July 27, 2015

Appellate Court Rules Against Attorney General in Illinois Budget Dispute

The budget crisis in Illinois has garnered quite a bit of attention in the press lately. One of the most recent issues involves the question whether the state can pay its employees even though no budget has been approved.  This issue has pitted the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Attorney General's office (who say no) against the Republican Governor (who says yes), with the unions siding with the Governor in this dispute. Multiple lawsuits have been filed by the unions to force the state to pay their members, with different results in Cook County (court sided against the unions) and St. Clair County (court sided with the unions). 

On Friday, in an unreported decision, the Fifth District Appellate Court issued a ruling in the St. Clair  appeal, finding that  the trial court had jurisdiction to grant the unions request for a TRO to compel the state to pay state employees. AFSCME v. State of Illinois, 2015 IL App (5th) 150277-U.

In its opinion, the court goes into some detail about the background that led to this dispute. The legislature and Governor have failed to agree to a budget and, as a result, no appropriations bill exists that would allow the state to pay its bills, including salaries to state employees. Several unions filed suit, including the lawsuit in St. Clair County that is the subject of this appeal, requesting the court to order the state to pay union members. The state comptroller stated that she would not issue paychecks unless ordered by the court, which the trial court did in entering a temporary restraining order directing her to pay all state employees at their regular rate. 

The Attorney General had argued at the trial court level that the state has no authority to issue checks for state employee salaries absent an appropriations bill. The AG acknowledged that under federal law (the FLSA), the state would be obligated to pay state employees at least a minimum wage if those employees were ordered to work. 

In Cook County, the trial court agreed with the AG, and ordered that the state could not issue paychecks beyond the minimum requirements of the FLSA. 

However, in St. Clair County, the trial court ruled against the AG, and ordered the state to pay all state employees (not just union workers) their regular salaries. 

In the latter case, the AG appealed on several bases. The AG argued first that the trial court had no jurisdiction to enter the TRO. The appellate court rejected that argument. The AG also argued that the St. Clair decision conflicts with the Cook County ruling. Again, the appellate court disagreed with the AG, finding that the two cases did not raise the same arguments and that the First District Appellate Court had vacated the Cook County circuit court's ruling. Finally, the appellate court held that the unions satisfied the elements for a TRO, and upheld the order that state workers be paid. The appellate court did, however, note that a TRO is intended to be of limited duration, so the court remanded the case back to the circuit court to set a hearing date.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf 


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