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UPDATE 1-Judge orders Illinois to continue to pay state workers

(Adds details of court hearing, comments from attorney general’s office, governor’s office, other details)

BELLEVILLE, Ill., Feb 16 (Reuters) - Illinois state workers will continue to be paid even though a state budget is not in place after a judge on Thursday refused to rescind his previous order requiring payments.

St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Robert LeChien rejected a request by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to lift his July 2015 order requiring state workers to be paid during the state’s record nearly 20-month budget impasse. Madigan, a Democrat, made the request last month in hopes of putting pressure on lawmakers to pass a spending plan.

The attorney general will appeal the ruling, according to Madigan spokeswoman Maura Possley.

“The Illinois Constitution requires an enacted appropriation for state spending,” Possley said in a statement. “Under the current injunction, the state has spent over $3 billion in taxpayer money without any transparency or legislative debate as required by law.”

Illinois is limping through a record-setting second consecutive fiscal year without a complete budget due to an ongoing feud between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature. A six-month fiscal 2017 budget expired on Dec. 31.

During a two-hour hearing, a lawyer representing the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which opposed Madigan’s maneuver, argued Madigan was playing a game with state workers’ lives by forcing a large swath of state government to go dark in a bid to leverage a budget deal.

“They were trying to start a game of chicken with the threat of a government shutdown,” union lawyer Steve Yokich said.

The governor’s office applauded the judge’s decision.

“It is our hope the attorney general drops this lawsuit so the bipartisan negotiations in the Senate can continue in order to reach a balanced budget with changes to get our state back on track,” Rauner’s general counsel, Dennis Murashko, said in a statement.

Rauner on Wednesday unveiled a fiscal 2018 general fund budget that calls for $37.3 billion in spending but projects $32.7 billion in revenue, leaving $4.57 billion in unspecified cuts and revenue increases to be negotiated with the legislature. (Writing by Dave McKinney and Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis)