With Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner hugging it out like a couple of long-lost frat brothers at an August 31 school-funding-bill ceremony, I suppose we can officially declare their little feud over.
I was among the last of the holdouts skeptical that their quarreling was pure political theater, even with all the nasty things they were saying about each other over the past few months. But then two weeks ago, Rauner threatened to pull the plug on Rahm’s beloved tax increment financing program, in a last-ditch effort to blackmail statehouse Democrats into torpedoing their school funding bill. Damn, I thought, Rauner’s going after the golden goose—maybe this fight is for real.
Back at the lovefest that was the bill-signing ceremony at Ebinger Elementary in Edgebrook, on the city’s far northwest side, Rahm and Rauner were filled with good cheer as they congratulated one another and extolled the virtues of compromise.
“We finally got it done,” Rauner said. As if he had anything to do with it.
The legislation includes a generous tax credit for gazillionaires who donate money to private and parochial schools. A tax handout for wealthy campaign donors? Man, all is well in the Rahm-Rauner universe! I’m surprised those two didn’t break out one of the expensive bottles of wine they used to share back in their good ol’ bromantic days, when they partied together at Rauner’s Montana ranch.
It’s certainly no mystery why Rahm’s smiling. The school funding deal sends an estimated $320 million in state aid to the Chicago Public Schools, which are busted, in part thanks to Rahm’s financial mismanagement.
What I can’t understand is Rauner’s enthusiasm. His sudden turnaround on this issue in the last few days has been nothing short of political schizophrenia.
Consider what Rauner put us through over the summer. The funding the state will distribute to schools thanks to the measure the governor so happily signed on August 31 was part of a budget deal he fought every step of the way. House speaker Michael Madigan managed to convince four Republicans to join the Democrats to override Rauner’s veto of that budget, which included an income tax hike. After the override had passed, Rauner, a bad sport to the end, went to Hegewisch, on the city’s far southeast side, to blast Madigan, claiming “the tax hike is like a two-by-four smacked across the forehead.” In July, he vetoed the school funding distribution bill on the grounds that it was a “Chicago bailout.”
In the end, Chicago got everything it wanted out of the funding bill—and Rauner still signed it. Sure, the bill did include that wretched tax credit for donations to parochial and private schools. But that was largely Madigan’s favor to Archbishop Blase Cupich, head of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
As far as Rauner’s so-called concerns about bailing out Chicago, the bill was utter capitulation on the part of the governor. If I were one of his true believers, I’d be voting third party in next year’s gubernatorial election.
Hell, if Rauner was just going to roll over and put his little paws in the air, he should’ve done it last year, when CPS was seeking help with its pension obligations. Instead Rauner’s intransigence cost Chicago taxpayers millions of dollars because without state aid, CPS had to borrow money to pay its bills. That means less money for the classroom and more interest for bankers. (Speaking of taking care of the donors.)
Basically Rauner was happily celebrating in Edgebrook a bill he had bitterly denounced in Hegewisch. Maybe he thinks people at one end of Chicago can’t hear what he’s saying at the other end.
I don’t mean to say Chicago taxpayers get a great deal out of the new law. On the contrary, we’re going to be hit with more than $100 million in property tax hikes to pay the teachers’ pension bills we’ve been ignoring since the days of Mayor Richard M. Daley.
And we still have the TIFs. As one of the more persistent opponents of this sham, I have a simple request to make of Rauner: Please, governor—don’t mention TIFs anymore.
Rauner highlighted the city’s TIF abuses only to fire up opposition to funding public education. In doing so, he set back the blow-up-the-TIFs cause for years. His allies at the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, issued a dreadful “anti-TIF” cartoon showing a black kid begging a rich white guy for school aid. (Only a bunch of Republicans could make the crusade against TIFs appear racist.)
So it’s like Chicago’s schoolchildren were about to get punished twice by the scheme: once when the TIFs by design divert hundreds of millions from their schools, and again with Rauner’s so-called solution, which involved essentially deducting the amount of money Chicago diverts to the TIF program from the school aid it receives from the state.
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe Rauner was serious in his threat to make this change to the school aid formula. For one thing, Rauner’s chief floor leader in the general assembly, state rep Jim Durkin, is a lawyer specializing in TIF deals. In addition, many other Republicansled towns in the state have their own version of the TIF scam. I can only imagine that many small-town mayors were letting Rauner know to keep his mitts off their TIFs.
Obviously, Rauner’s starting to realize the 2018 gubernatorial election is getting closer. And the Democratic front-runner is a billionaire named J.B. Pritzker, who can match him dollar for dollar in campaign expenditures.
After two years of rabid, right-wing, let’s-bankrupt-the-schools behavior, the governor’s inching closer to the center. He signed the school funding bill and other legislation, like the automatic voter registration bill and the Trust Act, which basically turns Illinois into a sanctuary state.
Why any voters would fall for Rauner’s late-term conversion, I do not know. But then I still can’t believe they fell for his act in the first place. v