Gov. Bruce Rauner may not like bailouts, but he sure likes the word “bailout.”
Bailout. Bailout. Bailout. He can’t seem to say it often enough these days.
Or for a change of pace, he makes it a verb with two words, “bail out.”
It is indeed a politically potent word, which is why Rauner kept repeating it over and over during a news conference Monday in explanation of why he opposes additional state funding for Chicago Public Schools.
He followed that up Tuesday morning with a written statement accusing Democrats of trying to force suburban and Downstate taxpayers to pay for a “massive bailout” of CPS.
The only thing worse than a bailout, of course, is a “massive bailout.”
In case anybody was missing the point of the exercise, the governor’s campaign shared the results of some of its recent polling with CapitolFax, the responses indicating clearly — and to nobody’s surprise — that voters don’t like bailouts.
Here was one of the questions, nearly all of which mentioned the “B” word:
“Would you be more or less likely to vote for your state legislator if you found out they voted for a bill that increases local school funding but also provides the largest taxpayer-funded bailout in the history of Chicago Public Schools?”
Only 23 percent reportedly said they would be “more likely” to vote for their legislator.
Nobody likes a bailout, not even its recipient. A rescue, maybe, but not a bailout. Bailout is an intentionally demeaning choice of words with its connotation of the recipient being undeserving.
Most important in this case, it’s designed to pit the rest of the state against Chicago, to isolate the city politically in the state budget battle so that there will be too much heat on legislators to side with Democratic leaders in any way that benefits CPS.
It’s a strategy that may well work. The politics of division are always a handy (pardon the expression) bailout for a politician on the ropes.
Still, it’s a fairly galling approach for any governor, whose job is to represent the entire state, but especially for a governor who clouted his own daughter into one of CPS’ elite magnet high schools.
I remember the first time I heard Rauner raise the issue of a city bailout. It was in a speech before the City Council in May 2015, so you can’t really accuse him of just saying it behind our backs.
Rauner warned aldermen that Illinois doesn’t have the money to “simply bail out Chicago.” This went along with his main message: “For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs.”
At the time, a Chicago casino was on the table with the expectation the revenue from it could go toward resolving the pension problems. It wasn’t as evident to me then that the city had its hand out for financial relief from Springfield. At this point, it’s obvious CPS needs help.
CPS officials would argue they are not asking for a bailout, only equitable funding from the state. They want the state to pay the employers’ share of the cost for Chicago teacher pensions, as it does for all other teachers in Illinois.
And they want the state to adjust its notoriously dysfunctional school funding formula to better recognize the higher costs associated with educating low-income and minority students as other states do.
Is that a bailout?
Let’s say it is. CPS needs financial assistance to save it from collapse. That probably meets the definition, even if many other school districts would fare proportionally better than CPS under a formula change.
At some point, the governor must recognize his obligation to Chicago’s schoolchildren, an obligation that is not met by his suggestions of bankruptcy or beating down the Chicago Teachers Union in a strike.