Jim Dey: Is Lisa Madigan rescuing 'Dadigan'?

 

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Little Lisa is making a big splash.

The Diminutive Daughter of the Diminutive Don of Illinois politics shook things up big time last week when she inserted herself into the 19-month-old state budget battle between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and her father, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan moved to end payment of state employee salaries, as of Feb. 28, unless the General Assembly passes a budget. She's asking St. Clair County Judge Robert LeChien to dissolve his order mandating the salary payments.

LeChien ruled that not to pay state employees would violate their union-negotiated contract rights. But Attorney General Madigan contends a subsequent Illinois Supreme Court ruling "squarely rejected (the) ... impairment of contract theory."

"Dissolving the injunction theory on (Feb. 28) recognizes that (the union's) constitutional claim lacks merit but seeks to avoid undue hardship to state employees by giving the legislative and executive branches a deadline to enact appropriations legislation providing for the payment of state employees' wages," the attorney general stated in a legal motion Thursday.

Needless to say, the attorney general's action undermines the political balance of power in the ongoing budget battle.

For starters, members of the Illinois Senate, encouraged by Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Leader Christine Radogno, are scheduled to return to Springfield on Feb. 7 to vote on a package of bills designed to end the stalemate. Gov. Rauner has encouraged senators to pursue the compromise agreement while Speaker Madigan has kept his thoughts to himself.

That's the policy dispute. But this free-for-all has as much to do with politics as it does with policy, specifically Speaker Madigan's desire to put a Democrat back in the governor's mansion in the 2018 election.

Attorney General Madigan's intervention is perceived in some quarters as her effort to put a thumb on the scale of the budget debate.

"The governor has done all he could do to avoid a (state government) shutdown because a shutdown means all the emphasis would then be on passing a real budget and the tax hikes which go along with it to reopen the government's door," writes Springfield political maven Rich Miller.

Miller, who oversees the capitolfax.com website, is referring to anger caused by the threatened government shutdown. The concern is thousands of state employees would descend on legislators, generating huge political pressure to pass a quick budget deal that maintains the status quo while substantially raising state taxes.

While that's exactly what Speaker Madigan wants, it's exactly what Gov. Rauner doesn't want.

Rauner is willing to give on taxes. But he has said he won't agree to a budget that does not include the reforms required to generate more jobs and increased economic growth, an approach Speaker Madigan has summarily rejected.

Republicans and union representatives have reacted angrily to Attorney General Madigan's move.

An AFSCME spokesman said the union is "shocked and extremely disappointed" by the attorney general's action. Gov. Rauner described himself as "deeply disappointed, very upset."

Democrats, perhaps perceiving their potential advantage, seemed less distressed.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for Speaker Madigan, denied the Madigans are in cahoots.

"As usual, the GOP attacks on the Madigans are poorly informed. There was no consultation. The attorney general runs her own office," he said.

Heretofore, this has mostly been a battle of policy and politics. But Attorney General Madigan has dragged the battle back into the courts.

AFSCME sought the court order maintaining employee salaries based on its legal claim that its members have a written contract that entitles them to be paid.

Judge LeChien adopted that argument, a suspect legal decision Attorney General Madigan did not appeal for more than year. Since then, however, she has gained additional ammunition for her position that, absent a legislative appropriation, employees cannot legally be paid.

In a 6-1 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled last year that AFSCME members were not entitled to a negotiated pay raise because the Legislature never appropriated the money to pay it.

Citing Article VII, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution, the justices noted that "the General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the state." The court concluded that Illinois has a "well-defined and dominant public policy under which (spending is) subject to the appropriation power of the state, a power which may only be exercised by the General Assembly."

Justice Lloyd Karmeier, partially dissenting, questioned the idea that legislators can ignore state contracts by not appropriating funds to pay them.

"Unfortunately, I believe the majority opinion interjects uncertainty into the state's responsibility for its contracts and will likely impair its ability to secure future contracts with its employees and vendors," Karmeier wrote.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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