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Mendoza compares Rauner to ‘check-bouncer’ after school funding plea

Comptroller Susana Mendoza responds to a reporter's question during an interview in her office last month. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

After Gov. Bruce Rauner’s hand-picked education czar aimed to put pressure on state Comptroller Susana Mendoza to “prioritize” payments for education, the comptroller on Thursday likened the governor to Michelangelo “back at work on his latest masterpiece” and “blaming everyone but himself.”

At issue is a quarterly $850 million state payment for “mandated categoricals” — per pupil spending for things such as special education and transportation — which is delayed because of the budget impasse.

In an interview with the Sun-Times on Monday, Education Secretary Beth Purvis noted vouchers were submitted to the comptroller’s office on time by the Illinois State Board of Education and implored Mendoza to “prioritize” the payment the same way she prioritized post-secondary education payments.

Purvis said that payment would alleviate some pressure — without a school funding bill in place. The governor and Democratic leaders continue to bicker about that measure, with Rauner vowing to issue an amendatory veto to take out Chicago pension costs.

The comptroller’s office released about $429 million for “categoricals” a month ago. But another quarterly payment is delayed because there’s no revenue in the books yet to pay for it.

Mendoza on Thursday pinned the blame for the delayed payment — and the budget impasse — squarely on Rauner’s back.

“As of today, the state’s checkbook balance is only $254 million. The Governor has not left enough money in the state’s accounts for another categorical payment to happen again soon,” Mendoza said. “Falsely blaming our office for not making payments from a bank account he emptied is like a check-bouncer blaming the bank for bouncing his check.”

Mendoza noted the budget included dedicated funds that can’t be used for K-12 education for higher education and Medicaid. State aid to schools can’t be paid through interfund borrowing or through state revenue without a school funding bill in place, she noted.

“If creating havoc for the State of Illinois was a form of art, Governor Bruce Rauner would be Michelangelo,’ Mendoza said. “Just three weeks removed from a narrowly-avoided statewide financial meltdown, he’s back at work on his latest masterpiece, plunging the state into a school funding crisis, and blaming everyone but himself.”