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Politics

Court Rulings Put New Twists On Budget Battle

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It turns out, the State of Illinois has limited spending authority even without a budget; a pair of judges said so in separate rulings.

In one case, a federal judge ruled the Department of Children and Family Services must continue to serve abused and neglected kids who've been removed from their homes -- despite the deadlock between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly.

"This gets back to a previous court order that says you need to provide these services," says Amanda Vinicky, statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Public Radio. "So protecting children that are wards of the state, DCFS needs to keep doing that."

That ruling also requires that DCFS employees be paid their full salary.

In another ruling, a Cook County judge said Illinois must continue to pay "essential" state workers the minimum wage, plus overtime, in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"They only get the federal minimum wage," Vinicky says, noting that's lower than the state wage. "Beyond that, other employees won't get anything without a state budget."

Vinicky says questions remain about which employees are essential. Attorneys for comptroller Leslie Munger say it could take a year to answer this, which is why the Rauner administration might appeal the ruling.

In the mean time, House lawmakers will try again to pass a one-month budget, which was approved by the Senate. The measure failed in the lower chamber, Vinicky says, because one Democrat was sick and three others were absent for other reasons. This time, she expects the entire caucus to show.

"There is a lot of pressure for all Democrats to be at the House Wednesday afternoon," she says. "If they were to stick together, they could send a short term budget to Gov. Rauner."

Even if the House approves a one-month spending plan, Rauner might not sign it. The Governor has 60 days to act on legislation. If he waits until August, Vinicky says, the budget for July would be "null and void."

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