With high stakes and no room for error, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will try again next week to salvage his plan to postpone the financial day of reckoning at the Chicago Public Schools.
The Illinois House will meet again Tuesday to consider legislation that would put off until Aug. 10 a $634 million CPS payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund due on that very day.
By then, Emanuel hopes to cut down on no-shows and do the hand-holding, explaining and cajoling necessary to round up the 18 additional votes he needs to put the bill over the top.
If he’s wrong, he will be forced to make an untenable choice between meeting payroll and making the pension payment.
MORE SCHOOLS NEWS: CPS pushing for UNO to keep role in charter schools Without guarantee from Springfield, Chicago Board of Ed approves $1.135 billion in borrowing Rauner frees school funding from budget battle, but Dems warn ‘bigger fights are still on the table’
CPS is literally out of cash and doesn’t have the money to make the full payment without making severe classroom cuts. Making a partial payment could trigger a pension fund lawsuit and a further drop in a CPS bond rating that’s already been reduced to junk status.
Top mayoral aides don’t think it’ll come to that. They know they have their work cut out, particularly in the midst of the ongoing budget stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan over Rauner’s demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms.
But, they firmly believe the second time will be the charm.
“There’s a war going on between these two guys. Nothing will be easy. But, after all of the political signaling and posturing, this will get done,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.
Another Emanuel confidant argued that the House roll call was somewhat misleading and that victory is “not as far away as it may appear.” That’s because, when lawmakers know a bill is going down, they pull back.
“We need to do a better job of educating people about what’s in the bill, convincing them there’s nothing toxic in it and getting people to show up. Those things are fixable,” the Emanuel confidant said.
“The bill just showed up. People didn’t even know what they were voting on until they got there. That works sometimes. It worked with the Obama library. But, sometimes it doesn’t. The good news is this bill didn’t flop on the last day. When that happens, you’re dead.”
Yet another Emanuel adviser pointed to the false-start City Hall had when it came to passing the deal that saved two of four city employee pension funds.
In that case, the objections appeared to be more substantive than they are now. The bill passed, only after language was stripped that would have compelled the city to make increased payments to the two funds by raising property taxes.
“It’s not like there wasn’t work put into it. But, it’s hard to pass a bill in a few hours. It’s happened to us before when things are coming together late and [lawmakers are] arriving late,” the mayoral adviser said.
When the teacher pension bill went down in flames, Rauner was quick to point the finger at Madigan, the governor’s favorite whipping boy. Rauner declared that the bill failed because Madigan “wanted to kill it.”
By accusing the powerful speaker of deliberately sabotaging legislation the mayor desperately needs to get schools open on time, Rauner hoped to drive a wedge between Emanuel and Madigan.
The governor’s political finger-pointing insinuated that Madigan was in a snit after being left out of the weekend bargaining.
On Wednesday, City Hall emphatically denied that Madigan had been the odd man out.
“We would never try to make a major legislative initiative happen without getting the speaker involved and early — EVER,” said one of the Emanuel confidants.
“The relationship between the speaker and the mayor is very close and built on trust, No. 1. Plus, it’s just not practical. Speaker Madigan has been a huge advocate for the city. To not have him involved doesn’t make any sense at all.”
The mayor’s team did not dispute the fact that Rauner’s strategy appears to be to isolate the speaker. But, they argued that it won’t work.
The whole point of a “six-week reprieve” is to buy time to resolve the state budget stalemate and move on to finding a long-term funding solution for education and address Emanuel’s demand to end, what he calls the “structural inequity” on teacher pensions.
To do that, Emanuel needs more than his old friend and former business associate Bruce Rauner. He needs the man who’s been “the ballgame” in Springfield for decades: Mike Madigan.
If Emanuel is losing patience with anyone, it’s Rauner — not Madigan, a mayoral aide said.
“The mayor is the one who talks to everybody. He’s the one most impacted by this [stalemate]. He’s encouraged everybody to work with everybody. He’s frustrated with the governor’s approach. His [anti-Madigan] ads. His rhetoric,” one of the Emanuel aides said.
“Everyone knows you can’t squeeze Madigan. That’s not gonna happen. It’s naïve.”