Chicago Sun-Times

Reach that ‘‘ grand bar­gain’’ or watch work­ers get hurt.

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Once again, the in­abil­ity of our state’s elected lead­ers to do their jobs threat­ens to hurt or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple.

On Thurs­day, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madi­gan set the wheels in mo­tion for tens of thou­sands of state work­ers to stop be­ing paid if a state bud­get is not ap­proved by Feb. 28. Ef­fec­tively, that would mean a gov­ern­ment shut­down. Madi­gan did so, she ex­plained, to cre­ate over­whelm­ing pres­sure on the state Leg­is­la­ture and Gov. Bruce Rauner to fi­nally cut a deal.

Here’s our prob­lem with that: Work­ing peo­ple once again are be­ing treated like pawns in a game of power by politi­cians who will never have to worry about liv­ing pay­check to pay­check. If Madi­gan’s gam­bit does not work, they will pay the price. And we can’t be sure of her mo­tives. Maybe she’s the most hon­est of bro­kers, just try­ing to force an end to the bud­get im­passe. Or maybe she’s work­ing an an­gle with the Speaker of the Illi­nois House, Michael J. Madi­gan, who hap­pens to be her father.

Lisa Madi­gan will ob­ject to that charge. She has worked hard over the years to show she runs her of­fice in­de­pen­dently of her father, and there is no ev­i­dence she’s do­ing his bid­ding now. But there also is no es­cap­ing the bad op­tics. Given that the speaker and at­tor­ney gen­eral are father and daugh­ter, skep­tics will al­ways sus­pect a tag team. And Lisa Madi­gan’s lat­est le­gal ma­neu­ver is giv­ing her father’s num­ber- one foe, Rauner, fits. A gov­ern­ment shut­down threat­ens much of Rauner’s lever­age to force pro- busi­ness re­forms as part of a bud­get pack­age.

None­the­less, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Madi­gan ap­pears to be on firm le­gal ground — and that means the clock is tick­ing. If a bud­get agree­ment is not reached, state work­ers may not get paid be­gin­ning in March.

The best course of ac­tion now for all in­volved is to get be­hind a “grand bar­gain” bud­get be­ing pushed by Se­nate Pres­i­dent John Culler­ton and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chris­tine Radogno. The par­tic­u­lars of the deal are in flux, but the con­cept is po­lit­i­cally sound — ev­ery­body wins and ev­ery­body loses, and to hell with the sin­gleis­sue lob­by­ists.

If Demo­cratic Culler­ton and Repub­li­can Radogno, both strong cham­pi­ons of their re­spec­tive par- ties’ val­ues and agen­das, can work some­thing out, it’s hard to see how Rauner and Mike Madi­gan have ex­cuses.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Madi­gan filed a re­quest to dis­solve a 2015 pre­lim­i­nary court in­junc­tion that has al­lowed state work­ers to be paid dur­ing the bud­get im­passe. Madi­gan could have filed that re­quest a year ago, but there was a stop- gap spend­ing plan in place at the time — it now has ex­pired — and her of­fice says she wanted to give the gov­er­nor and Leg­is­la­ture time to work things out.

But now the at­tor­ney gen­eral be­lieves, ac­cord­ing to her fil­ing, that the court in­junc­tion only makes it eas­ier for the gov­er­nor and the Leg­is­la­ture “to fail to ful­fill their con­sti­tu­tional du­ties.” Be­cause of the in­junc­tion, she said, they have not had to face “the real threat of a gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

She cited a 2016 Illi­nois Supreme Court rul­ing that re­jected the ar­gu­ment that with­hold­ing pay vi­o­lates em­ployee con­tracts. With­out a proper ap­pro­pri­a­tion of funds by the Leg­is­la­ture, the court con­cluded, there can be no pay­ment.

As Rich Miller of the Capi­tol Fax blog ar­gued on Fri­day, the court’s rul­ing makes good sense. If a gov­er­nor could freely sign con­tracts and force the state to pay for those con­tracts, with­out re­gard to an ap­pro­pri­a­tion by the Leg­is­la­ture, the po­ten­tial for an abuse of pow­ers is tremen­dous. “Just imag­ine,” Miller wrote, “if Rod Blago­je­vich could’ve done it.”

On Fri­day, Rauner vowed to do all he can to make sure em­ploy­ees con­tinue to be paid. In an email to state work­ers, he charged that Lisa Madi­gan’s fil­ing “seeks to di­rectly harm thou­sands of em­ployee fam­i­lies and even more who rely on your hard work ev­ery day.”

More power to the gov­er­nor there. Le­gal as it may be — and well in­tended as it may be — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Madi­gan’s re­quest to the court puts the pay­checks of or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple at risk. What did they do to de­serve that?

But we see no he­roes here, no win­ners. Only losers. Sooner or later, Illi­nois once again will have a bud­get, fully and prop­erly funded. And there will be noth­ing mag­i­cal about that bud­get. It will re­flect the same tax hikes, spend­ing cuts and pol­icy re­forms that could have been agreed upon al­most two years ago.

Peo­ple are be­ing hurt for noth­ing.

Send let­ters to let­ters@ suntimes. com. Fol­low the Ed­i­to­rial Board on Twit­ter: @ cste­d­i­to­ri­als

Work­ing peo­ple once again are be­ing treated like pawns in a game of power by politi­cians who will never have to worry about liv­ing pay­check to pay­check.

 ??  ?? Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madi­gan’s ac­tion could stop state work­ers from be­ing paid. | RICH HEIN/ SUN- TIMES
Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madi­gan’s ac­tion could stop state work­ers from be­ing paid. | RICH HEIN/ SUN- TIMES

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