Gov. Bruce Rauner made it clear this week that he’s willing to push Illinois to a familiar precipice for a political victory. Question is: Will Quad-Cities’ Republican lawmakers — Rep. Tony McCombie and Sen. Neil Anderson — be willing to take the leap?
There’s a lot of hyperbole flying about over education funding package Senate Bill 1. Rauner again this week falsely called it a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) after issuing an amendatory veto. General Assembly’s ruling Democrats — who passed the key educational spending reform — accused the freshman Republican governor of brinkmanship.
It’s a grossly familiar refrain in the Land of Lincoln, where even the most fundamental governmental processes devolve into a master class in dysfunction.
Here are the known facts:
- The formula long used to allocate funds is widely considered one of the worst in the country, especially for poor districts.
- Education funding can’t be released until a new spending formula is approved, such as SB 1.
- Districts expect those payments, starting Aug. 10.
- CPS has been the only district in the state that’s gone without funding for its unfunded pension liability. Rauner wants to strip CPS of a roughly $250 million block grant, which it has received for years, in return for the pension help.
- Analysis at Politifact reached the same conclusion we did: SB 1 isn’t a “bailout” because CPS has received the grant funding for years.
- The General Assembly has three options within the next two weeks: Override Rauner’s veto, accept the amendments by a three-fifths majority or let the bill die.
- Fitch Ratings warned this week that Rauner’s veto could be grounds for another credit downgrade. Junk status, here we come.
Rauner’s playing provincialism here. Pitting big bad Chicago against the rest of the state might be good politics in downstate Illinois. It’s hardly a worldview from which to govern, though. Chicago, like the rest of the state, has its share of property poor districts brimming with low-income homes. It’s these students who are the pawns on Rauner’s chessboard. And he’s shown a willingness to sacrifice them for better position.
The thing is, administrators from throughout Illinois — rural and urban — have lined up behind SB 1. They point to its “fact-based” approach to funding. In most cases, they represent districts that stand to gain financially from the bill’s passage. In the Illinois Quad-Cities, SB 1 would mean millions more in aid for school districts in East Moline, Rock Island-Milan, Moline-Coal Valley. And it would do it without shortchanging thousands of students in the state’s lone metropolis.
Put simply, there aren’t the votes to approve Rauner’s veto and strip CPS of its block grant. The death-through-inaction is downright implausible at this point. Only an override gets this done in the time available. The votes to do so may exist in the Senate. The necessary supermajority in the House looks short by our count.
Failure here would, ultimately, cost the local tax base. Districts would borrow to plug the gaps. Who pays the interest?
Yet again, Illinois has devolved into another game of chicken between Rauner and the General Assembly. It’s a blame game that’s now fueled by Rauner’s need for a legislative victory. Last month’s veto override, which finally closed the historically shameful budget impasse, was a massive political defeat.
And, so far, McCombie and Anderson have expressed total willingness to back the governor’s so-called strategy, one that lacks much in the way of clear tactical forethought.
Theirs is partisan devotion that could result in districts throughout Illinois scrambling to balance the books. Rauner’s understandable desire for a legislative victory isn’t worth the cost.
McCombie and Anderson have a choice if and when an override vote hits the General Assembly: It’s either their party or the school districts they represent.
They can’t have it both ways.