Having failed to pay the state’s pension debt for decades, political leaders are now at war over school funding.
The Illinois Legislature passed a school funding bill — separate from the rest of the state budget — but did not send the legislation to the governor for his approval.
That’s because the governor has threatened to amend the school funding bill by eliminating money for the Chicago Public Schools, which he claims is a CPS pension bailout. That could be anywhere from $100 million to $250 million, or about 2 to 3 percent of the total state spending on schools.
That’s right. This major battle in Springfield is about next to nothing, which is quite something.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, you may recall, did veto the state budget and was overridden by Illinois lawmakers, including members of his own Republican Party.
As a result, the state avoided a junk bond rating and potential disaster.
That’s because the lawmakers increased the state’s income tax, which will raise a pile of money, but not enough to pay the backlog of bills on the comptroller’s desk or eliminate that massive pension debt.
In addition, the governor’s own school finance reform commission estimated the schools need $3.5 billion to $6 billion more from the state, which isn’t going to happen.
The pension debt is about $130 billion, although the interest on that debt grows so fast these days that I have trouble keeping up.
In recent years, as the Republican governor battled with Illinois Democratic Party leader and House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state failed to pass a budget.
As a result, schools throughout the state are owed millions of dollars.
So back to that education-funding bill that the Legislature passed, but did not forward to the governor because he already has said he will veto the thing.
The governor gave lawmakers until noon Monday to send him the bill and when they didn’t, he called them down to Springfield for a special session — which is sort of like saying they have to sit in the corner and think about what they have done.
In the meantime, some school districts in this state are wondering if they’re going to have the money to keep their doors open this fall, since the first checks from the state are supposed to arrive around mid-August.
If at this point you’re saying, “All the politicians in Springfield need to have their heads examined,” I don’t blame you. This state sometimes resembles a madhouse and the inmates are definitely running the asylum.
There are still many people who believe the governor, elected to shake things up in Springfield, has done a fine job of it.
The pension crisis is worse, the annual budget debt is greater, and there’s a new permanent income tax hike.
It’s difficult to defend Madigan since he’s been a leader the entire time the state failed to pay its bills or adequately fund the schools as property taxes skyrocketed, but Rauner has done nothing to improve anything.
And because of that Madigan actually saved the state from financial ruin (temporarily) by passing the income tax hike and getting some Republicans to go along.
Rauner, in the meantime, wants term limits, changes in legislative redistricting, a property tax freeze and lower compensation payments to Illinois workers hurt on the job.
None of that would balance the state’s budget or fund that gigantic pension debt, or solve this state’s school funding problem – which is massive.
But the governor has now chosen to pit Chicago against the rest of the state, using school funding to gain political advantage. Of course, the governor says he loves the children.
So much dung gets tossed around in Springfield when it comes to education that Illinois schoolchildren should be required to wear hazmat suits.