Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday moved to avert a government shutdown by urging state employees to report to work today, even though the state no longer has the authority to pay them.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday moved to avert a government shutdown by urging state employees to report to work today (Wednesday), even though the state no longer has the authority to pay them.


 


In a letter distributed to the employees, Blagojevich asked for “your cooperation to avoid a shutdown in government services by reporting to work (Wednesday)...” The temporary budget that kept the state operating in July expired at midnight Tuesday.


 


Blagojevich warned that a continued budget impasse coupled with lawmakers refusing to pass another temporary spending plan could result in missed paydays.


 


“Despite this prospect, I hope you will continue to perform your duties until a full year’s budget is in place,” the governor wrote. “With your cooperation, the people who count on state government will experience no inconveniences.”


 


Blagojevich pledged that when a budget compromise is worked out, state workers will be paid in full for the time worked. In addition, he said, benefits such as state employee health insurance will continue even without a budget.


 


On Monday, Blagojevich said contingency plans were in place to keep essential state services operating if there was no agreement on either a permanent or temporary state budget by today.  However, Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix said Tuesday the governor never planned to shut down government services.


 


“Our intention was always to have employees come to work,” Nix said, adding that no state agencies have been instructed to begin curtailing operations by this weekend, either, if a budget has not been approved.


 


During a meeting with the four legislative leaders in his Statehouse office, Blagojevich continued to press for passage of another one-month budget. It was the first time in more than a week that the five men had gotten together.


 


“All four leaders told the governor that we are working toward a 12-month budget,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. “We also complimented the governor on his decision to ask state employees to come into work.”


 


Comptroller Dan Hynes said Monday state government can continue operating normally for several days even if there were no budget by Aug. 1. However, he said that if a spending plan is not in place by Aug. 8, about $170 million in school aid payments are in jeopardy, as are paychecks for about 4,900 state workers.


 


Virtually all of the employees are in the executive offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, treasurer and attorney general.


 


Nix refused to answer repeated questions about when the administration thinks the lack of a budget could affect state operations.


 


The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents thousands of state workers, praised the governor’s letter.


 


“It means no curtailment of services, and employees will be paid for their work,” said AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall. “This is the sensible and responsible approach. It is exactly what happened in 1991.”


 


In 1991, during Gov. Jim Edgar’s first year in office, lawmakers went a then-record 19 days into overtime over budget disagreements. Edgar told state employees to continue working and that they would be paid in full when a budget was passed.


 


Some employees did miss a payday before a budget was approved.


 


As in 1991, state workers who are members of Credit Union 1 can qualify for a short-term, no-interest loan to cover a missed payday. The loan is made for the net amount of the employee’s paycheck after deductions. Once a budget is approved, the employee’s paycheck will be turned over to the credit union to repay the loan.


 


Margaret Westlove, senior vice president of marketing and sales, said employees can go to credit union offices as early as today to fill out the paperwork.


“We’re going to make it as simple and painless as possible,” Westlove said.


 


People who are not members of the credit union can join by opening a savings account with as little as $5, she added.


 


Illinois National Bank issued a statement saying that it, too, will offer short-term, no-interest loans to state employees affected by the budget impasse. The statement said employees should call the bank to obtain more information.


 


With a government shutdown at least temporarily averted, the four legislative leaders resumed their negotiations earlier Tuesday without Blagojevich.


 


“I think we are close,” Madigan said afterward. “As far as I’m concerned, I can see a budget that can be passed very quickly and signed by the governor that would meet all of the needs of the people of Illinois.”


 


Madigan, though, apparently is the only one who thinks that. Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, agreed that the leaders are “closer” to a budget deal, but he described the progress as “very piecemeal.”


 


Blagojevich’s coveted health-care plan was not discussed during the leaders-only meeting, Watson said, but was raised during the later meeting with the governor.


“He wants health care. He made that very clear,” Watson said. “It’s a costly budget-buster.”


 


There’s also no agreement on the crucial issue of expanded gambling. Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, sees more gambling as a way of paying for both a capital bill and for expanded education funding. Watson and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, think the extra gambling revenue should be reserved for a capital program only.


 


Adriana Colindres of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.