Seems Gov. Bruce Rauner has been barking up the wrong tree.
Rauner has built his political career, such as it is, by bashing Chicago for the woes of Illinois. He stomps around Downstate stirring up resentments, telling the people of smaller cities and towns that the big bad city is sponging up their money and playing them for suckers.
This hasn’t worked well for the governor. He has little to show for his first 2½ years in office. But he’s playing the game yet again in his opposition to a bill that would overhaul the way schools are funded in Illinois, complaining speciously that it is a “Chicago bailout.”
Now comes news, though, that Rauner may have it all backward. If anybody is “bailing out” anybody, it’s the northeast counties of Illinois, with the mighty engine of Chicago at their hub, bailing out the rest of the state. On Monday, a 2015 study was released that shows Cook and the other suburban counties get less money back from the state than they give — 80 cents or less for every dollar — while almost all Downstate counties get back more than they give — as much as $2 or more for every dollar.
Cook County, that is to say, is “bailing out” Sangamon County, and Lake County is “bailing out” Wayne County, and DuPage is “bailing out” Jackson, and Kane is “bailing out” Union, and Will is “bailing out” St. Clair, and Kendall is “bailing out” Crawford, and McHenry is “bailing out” Hardin.
Why don’t we try a different tack? Let’s move away from this useless debate about who is bailing out whom. It will always, for one, be inconclusive.
The study made public on Monday, conducted by the General Assembly’s Legislative Research Unit, concludes that there are “clear” regional differences — any way you cut it — between who gives and who gets from the state. But the authors acknowledge they looked only at certain pots of money, including individual income taxes, sales taxes, lottery proceeds, estate taxes, insurance taxes and federal matching payments for state Medicaid payments. The authors did not look at sources of revenue, such as corporate income taxes and utility taxes, that they could not break down neatly by county.
If the “bailout” blame game is unending, it also misses the point. Illinois will never get its mojo back until it moves forward as a whole, not as a collection of feuding parts. No corner of the state wants to be short-changed, but the needs of all corners are not the same. If, for example, more Medicaid money flows downstate because more people need Medicaid downstate, so be it. That’s not a bailout. That’s fairness.
By the same token, state education funding should be targeted more toward school districts that have little taxable property wealth or serve large concentrations of kids who live in poverty. That’s not a bailout. That’s only fair, too.
We disagree with Rauner that the education funding formula bill he vetoed, Senate Bill 1, is a “bailout” for Chicago. The Chicago Public Schools still would receive only 16 percent of the state’s funding for education while teaching 19 percent of the state’s public school kids. And the governor’s amendatory veto, which threw in various new demands out of the blue, served only to further vilify the big city. In truth, as even several downstate editorial boards have argued, Senate Bill 1 represents a historic chance to reform school funding, easing decades of financial inequities.
We only wish that the House, like the Senate, had the votes to override the governor’s veto, though that is unlikely. A vote is set for next week.
If Rauner persists in talking about “bailouts,” let’s be clear what that means. People living in the Chicago area get back only 80 cents on every dollar they deliver to Illinois. They are picking up much of the tab for most of the rest of the state.
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