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Judge punts on Illinois state worker pay raises, sends back to arbitration

Gov. PQuinn

Gov. Pat Quinn

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Updated: August 4, 2012 6:19AM

A Cook County judge passed Monday on deciding whether or not Gov. Pat Quinn must give 2 percent pay raises to thousands of state workers — and instead sent the matter back to arbitration.

Quinn canceled the raises in July 2011 because he said the state legislature did not provide him the needed $75 million.

But Circuit Court Judge Richard J. Billik said Monday that four of the 14 state agencies promised pay bumps had found the money in their budgets to pay their employees the 2 percent raise — leaving the fate of nearly 30,000 other state employees, including those of the state’s two largest agencies — Human Services and Department of Corrections — up in the air.

Billik agreed with some of the administration’s arguments, including that Quinn can not spend money that has not been appropriated even if bound by a contract. But the judge said the administration must prove that it lacked the funds, and he ordered the matter sent back to an arbitrator.

Billik called for more “fact finding” that would examine each agency’s fiscal year 2012 budget — which ended Saturday.

The governor’s spokesman on budget matters, Kelly Kraft, said the four state agencies that were able to pay the raises had an unexpected surplus due to retirements.

“These were relatively small agencies that included the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission, Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, Prisoner Review Board, the Historic Preservation Agency,” said Kraft, who noted the pay raises totaled about $600,000 for 280 workers.

“We’re pleased the judge recognized the state can’t pay wages without sufficient appropriation from the legislature,” Kraft said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is hopeful the decision will pave the way for more take-home-cash for its members.

“State employees are understandably frustrated by the delay in securing the pay they’re entitled to,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said Monday. “We are prepared to make our case before the arbitrator and are hopeful that justice will prevail when we do. State employees repeatedly deferred pay to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s long past time Pat Quinn kept his end of the bargain.”

The matter wound up in court after the last round of arbitration concluded with a decision that indicated Quinn was bound by the contract with AFSCME.

Quinn sued and AFSCME counter sued.

The contract actually called for a 4 percent increase. But AFSCME agreed to postpone half of that to help the state balancing its deficit budget.

The union also sued in federal court arguing constitutional violations but an appellate court ruled in May that it could not force the state to spend money.

Contributing: Associated Press

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