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Rauner offers CPS $200 million in pension help —  with a catch

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday repackaged a set of reforms he’s pushed since he took office in January, linking them — and an offer of help — to the financial crisis facing Chicago Public Schools.

The Republican’s attempt to rebrand his “reform agenda” was quickly shot down as “unacceptable” by Senate President John Cullerton, whom Rauner had singled out as a Democrat who has worked to compromise.

The proposal would freeze property taxes for two years and boost state funding to high-poverty school districts by $74 million. As part of the offering, Rauner said Illinois could immediately give $200 million in state aid to offset Chicago Public Schools’ pension costs but only as part of a comprehensive school reform package that includes allowing the city and local towns to opt out of collective-bargaining requirements.

The proposal also would relieve districts of state mandates that schools have to pay for on their own. The governor’s office says these mandates represent major costs and proposes allowing school districts to use third-party contracting for transportation, food service and janitorial work.

“We’re willing right now to bring pension parity for the Chicago Public School system,” Rauner said at a news conference at the Thompson Center. Rauner put that support at $200 million a year. In addition, Rauner offered the state’s help to defray health insurance contributions for CPS employees.

Rauner’s proposal also would establish a School Funding Reform Commission chaired by state School Superintendent Tony Smith.

Rauner pitched what he called a new compromise reform package, which combined several of his previous proposals into one bill. Rauner’s proposals have fallen flat with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which has voted down individual pieces of Rauner’s agenda, including proposed changes in the law to workers compensation and right-to-work legislation.

There appeared to be little appetite for the newest pitch.

“The governor’s proposal is totally unacceptable,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said. “It’s a thinly veiled series of half measures attempting to mask his intent to slash middle-class wages and benefits. That won’t improve education in Illinois.”

Cullerton is scheduled to testify before a House committee Tuesday morning about his own property tax freeze/school funding reform proposal, SB318 and the office urged the governor to get behind the Senate President’s bill.

Rauner insisted there is support for some of his proposals, including pairing a property tax freeze for local governments with an option of easing requirements on what items must be collectively bargained in labor agreements. Rauner said it should also be up to local towns to vote to suspend rules requiring them to pay a set, standard “prevailing” wage on capital projects.

“The speaker shouldn’t dictate what local residents do in their schools. People should decide,” Rauner said. “The reality is, we are a purple state. We’re not a blue state, we’re not a red state. We’re a purple state. Many folks stand with our administration on this.”

Rauner’s new pitch did not include his earlier calls for legislative term limits and changes to the way the state’s legislative districts are mapped. He said he was not backing down from those changes, but they were not part of this proposed bill.

As part of the legislation, Rauner proposed putting into law a sticking point between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union — asking teachers to pick up the entirety of the government’s contribution to pensions. CTU President Karen Lewis has said eliminating the so-called “pension pickup” negotiated years ago in lieu of a pay raise would amount to a 7 percent pay cut. To appease the union, Emanuel has offered to phase in the change over a three-year period, just as newly appointed Schools CEO Forrest Claypool is doing for 2,100 central office and management employees.

Rauner blamed House Speaker Mike Madigan for not allowing a vote on any of the six reform bills that the governor put forward in the waning days of the Spring session.

“We’re calling on Speaker Madigan: please call this bill and debate this bill,” Rauner said, noting that Madigan has taken pieces of Rauner’s bills and called for votes but not for a vote on the entire package.

“This act basically brings together components of the various bills that we’ve proposed,” Rauner said.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the Legislature has already weighed in on Rauner’s proposal, as have municipalities across the state.

“Some of that stuff we have been voting on for eight months. I guess we’ll take this under review,” Brown said. “Nobody’s been persuaded that it’s a good idea. … I don’t understand what’s new, other than it’s Monday.”