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The same old flimflam game on school funding

Gov. Bruce Rauner | AP file photo

A reader writes that although he’s always voted for Democratic candidates he’s going to support Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, for re-election because Rauner is calling for a property tax freeze.

OPINION

Property taxes, this reader proclaims, are outrageously high.

He’s right. But he simply ignores the point that property taxes are high because this state has failed to adequately fund public schools for 30 years, forcing local school districts to depend on revenues from property taxes.

Last year, the state Legislature voted to change the Illinois school funding formula and Rauner signed the bill, a reform measure he initially called for in his first election campaign. Republicans and Democrats did that together because this state has the greatest disparity in education funding between wealthy and poor school districts in the nation.

Why? Because it relies so heavily on property taxes. On average 67 percent of a school district’s funding in Illinois comes from local property taxes. This state pays about 25 percent of the education cost while most state governments pick up at least 50 percent of the bill.

That new school funding formula legislation I mentioned holds school districts harmless. That means no school district will get less money from the state than it did before the legislation was passed. That means the funding to help poorer districts and funneled through the reform measure will have to come from additional state money.

But this state is broke. I mean it can’t pay its bills. Can’t pay its pension debt.

That’s why it needed an income tax increase, which was passed last year. That money will be used to pay some of our old bills, pay off some of our debt and keep the financial rating agencies from saying this state is an economic failure. Legislators and the governor also agreed to use $350 million in new money for education. That money will be channeled through the new funding formula.

But the governor has said in campaign speeches that he wants to roll back that income tax hike.

Campaigning for re-election, he’s also promising to freeze or reduce property taxes.

Many Democratic candidates are also promising property tax relief.

The Republican minority leader of the Illinois House, who is campaigning for re-election, is stating in his campaign commercials that he is going to get voters property tax relief if they re-elect him. I haven’t heard him denounce the public schools in his own district, however, for overspending.

Senate Democrats passed a property tax freeze last spring and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has said he would support a property tax freeze.

Well, if you freeze property taxes, you essentially cut public education funding.

If you eliminate the state income tax hike, or roll it back, you essentially cut the amount of money the state can spend on education, although the state has never supported education.

The governor and legislators took a lot of bows last year when that school funding reform bill passed. Editorial page editors and education activists called it “historic.”

I called it a con because it did not include a dedicated source of funding for education.

This is the same old flimflam game that has resulted in the state’s financial mess. It is the reason this state has the most unfair system of school funding in the nation. This is the sort of double-talk that has all of us paying the highest property taxes in the nation.

It’s bad for business. It’s bad for homeowners. And it’s terrible for school children.

Rauner is essentially saying he can cut the income tax increase, freeze property taxes and give the schools more money (while providing new money for charter schools and giving tax credits to people who have children in Catholic schools).

When it comes to school funding, everyone lies in Illinois. They want you to forget that. I won’t let them.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com