If it were up to me, the Illinois General Assembly would immediately run a steamroller over Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of school funding reform legislation as a way of thanking him for his input.
Sorry to say, it does not appear there are quite enough votes to accomplish that just yet.
That’s why it’s probably better for all of us that there are cooler heads than me working on this issue in the Legislature who may yet find a compromise solution before this becomes a full-fledged school crisis.
Lawmakers have 15 days to act on Rauner’s veto, but it will take on crisis proportions EVEN before then, especially for some of the state’s most financially challenged school districts that would be among the legislation’s main beneficiaries if approved.
I seriously doubt that any deal will be worked out before state school aid payments are supposed to be transmitted to individual school districts on Aug. 10.
Failure to make that payment is going to unleash a public outcry from school officials all across the state, even from those who have the money to keep operating without it, as they are forced to take emergency steps to adjust their budgets.
Unlike in other recent Illinois political fights, the money is there in the state budget, thanks to the new state income tax increase. There’s just no agreement on how to divvy it up between school districts.
No school district has said it will be unable to begin the fall semester without the payment, although many have warned they will run out of funds within weeks or months even if they do open. I believe them.
Many of these same school districts are already hurting because the state owes them a combined $858 million in grant payments — mainly for such items as transportation and special ed — that are caught up in the state’s backlog of unpaid bills.
The Illinois comptroller’s office does not expect to be able to make its next $429 million installment on those overdue grant funds before September.
Chicago Public Schools borrowed money — at high interest rates — to ensure that the district would be able to withstand the temporary loss of state aid and allow Mayor Rahm Emanuel to keep a promise to open the schools no matter what.
That decision removed some of Rauner’s leverage over CPS, which he has always hoped to use as a bargaining chip to achieve his broader political aims.
That opportunity would shrink considerably for Rauner with the passage of Senate Bill 1, which resolves one of CPS’ longstanding needs — requiring the state to pay the employer’s share of Chicago teacher pension costs as it does for other school districts throughout the state.
Even though Rauner and Republicans have been characterizing the school funding bill as a Chicago pension bailout, the governor on Tuesday acknowledged the fairness of paying for Chicago teacher pensions by preserving that provision.
In removing the Chicago pension payment from the school aid formula and switching it into the state’s pension code, however, Rauner created additional practical hurdles for the legislation.
Would it make more sense on principle for Chicago teacher pensions to be paid through the state’s Pension Code as Rauner proposes instead of the school formula?
Sure, as a general principle. But from a practical political standpoint, this was a smart way of getting it done without allowing Rauner to hijack it to get his way on something else.
After going over the extensive changes contained in Rauner’s amendatory veto, I doubt any resolution of this issue will include him. This is another case where he has his own definite ideas of how something should be done, and when that happens, he’s not one to compromise.
Rather, Democrats must appeal directly to Republican legislators to find common ground, as they did to break the state budget impasse.
And then, rev up the steamroller.