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Rauner: ‘Very close’ to stopgap budget — but forget CPS ‘bailout’

Gov. Bruce Rauner greeted people before speaking to the Illinois Taxpayer Federation annual meeting at Maggiano's, 516 N. Clark St., Thursday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday revealed that negotiations on a stopgap budget are “very close” to being finalized — but stressed he’d veto a bill that includes a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools.

Legislators will come back to Springfield next Wednesday, according to an announcement sent to lawmakers Thursday afternoon.

The Illinois General Assembly has just seven days before the state’s fiscal year begins. And ending July 1 without a stopgap budget or plan for schools will mean the state’s comptroller’s office won’t be able to make $23 billion in payments that were previously authorized in an appropriations bill. That means no money for K-12 schools, teachers’ pensions, matching federal funds, colleges and MAP grants, as well as funding to local governments.

Senate President John Cullerton is optimistic an agreement is “close at hand.”

“At this point it makes sense to bring Senators back to the Capitol as the working groups have continued to meet. The Senate President remains hopefully optimistic that a bipartisan agreement is close at hand,” spokesman John Patterson said.

Rauner on Thursday said Democrats have made “tweaks” to the temporary budget bill proposed by Republicans, asking for more money for MAP grants and human services. Rauner’s administration also indicated Democrats are asking for more higher education funding, in addition to funding for MAP grants. But the governor said they’re also asking for a Chicago “bailout.”

“They’re going to hold up everything in the budget and these negotiations for Chicago Public Schools to get a bailout,” Rauner said. “Let’s be clear. That’s not fair. That’s not fair to the people of the state of Illinois.”

Rauner continued to blame CPS’ financial mess on its own mismanagement, and not on their pension structure.

“A bailout for Chicago is not fair to taxpayers, and it doesn’t solve any of the problems for the taxpayers,” Rauner said after speaking at a Illinois Taxpayers Federation luncheon in River North, where he received a couple of chuckles in his criticism of both unions and Democratic leaders.

Rauner laid out three options for CPS to get out of debt: a “better teachers contract,” a property tax increase or bankruptcy re-organization.

Rauner said Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic leaders have rejected those options and they instead want a “Chicago bailout.”

“That is wrong. That’s not fair and we’ve got to stand up against that,” Rauner said.

CPS shot back, saying Rauner is using “corporate takeover tactics.” The school district contends bankruptcy wouldn’t address CPS’ fundamental budget issue, the need for more revenue to fund education.

“Governor Rauner is itching to subject Chicago students to his old slash-and-burn corporate takeover tactics, decimating our schools and cheating teachers of their pensions — when he should be providing adequate and equitable funding,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. “We’ll keep fighting to make sure that Governor Rauner can’t avoid his responsibility to fund schools around the state and protect our children’s futures.”

In May, the Illinois Board of Education determined CPS failed to meet “any of the criteria” financially for bankruptcy proceedings to begin. The state’s board of education, headed and governed by Rauner appointees, launched a financial investigation last winter into CPS’ finances. Through that probe, it determined that CPS didn’t meet criteria for the certification of financial distress necessary for the state board to take financial control.

CPS faces a $1.1 billion deficit in the new fiscal year starting July 1, and has been hoarding cash to make a massive pension payment on June 30. It passed last year’s budget with a $480 million gap and has been begging Springfield to help ever since, borrowing hundreds of millions at sky-high interest rates in the meantime. The district has also argued it is exempt from state oversight and has been lobbying for a change to the state funding formula for schools.

State House Speaker Mike Madigan on Tuesday canceled this week’s House session for the third week in a row. On May 31, he told reporters he’d bring lawmakers back for Wednesday sessions in June. With each cancellation, Madigan cited the progress of bipartisan working groups of legislators, who have been meeting for months to try to find a way to end the budget impasse.

Republicans introduced two bills on the last day of session — one an education bill to ensure schools open on time, and the other a stopgap measure that will fund essential state and government operations until the end of the year.

Earlier Thursday, about 75 childcare and homecare workers waited for Rauner outside a Department of Human Services building waving signs and chanting things such as “Rauner, Rauner, don’t you know? Healthcare cuts have got to go!”

“We want to make sure he hears out concerns,” said Carmen Macias, a childcare provider who gathered near a passing sports utility vehicle that shuttled Rauner into a gated parking lot at 401 S. Clinton St.

Macias said Rauner’s cuts to a state program that provides childcare to parents who work or go to school were devastating to thousands of families that utilized the service as well as for workers like her.

“I want to see Rauner do the right thing,” said Macias moments before Rauner exited the car and walked into the building without interacting with protesters.

The demonstration was organized by Service Employees International Union. Protesters also greeted Rauner as he walked into the River North luncheon Thursday afternoon.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek