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End the legislative extortion: Send the school bill to governor now

Belleville News Democrat

Saturday, July 22, 2017  |  Editorial  |  By The Editorial Board

Education Funding (36a) , Governor (44) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22
Our governor is frustrated.

We lost count of how many times Gov. Bruce Rauner used that term when he visited our Editorial Board this week.

He’s frustrated with House Speaker Michael Madigan. He’s frustrated with lawmakers who haven’t voted the way he expected. He’s frustrated that school superintendents aren’t publicly supporting his own school-funding plan, even though it would give most of them more money.

Mostly he’s frustrated with Madigan, whom he called a “master of legislative extortion.”

Fresh off the Democrat-controlled legislature’s override of his vetoes on a new budget and tax increase — where a handful of his fellow Republicans defected and voted for the override — Rauner visited the BND to push his position on the newest statehouse showdown. It involves Senate Bill 1, a Democrat plan to overhaul Illinois’ school funding formula.

The plan would provide more help to poor districts, in an effort to reduce the disparity between what is spent on education in wealthy and poor schools. The new state budget has a provision that says general state aid to schools can only be distributed using a new, evidence-based model, such as in Senate Bill 1.

The House and Senate have passed SB1, but the Senate has not yet sent it to Rauner. Rauner plans to veto the bill, which he says is a bailout for Chicago schools. He says his own funding plan would cut out the Chicago bailout, and almost every district would get more money than they would get under SB1. For example, he said, Belleville districts 201 and 118 combined would get $1.5 million more per year under his plan, East St. Louis would get $1.2 million more per year, and Granite City would get $1.1 million more per year.

‘This is tyranny’

Rauner says a last-minute amendment to SB1, orchestrated by Madigan, amounts to an extra $300 million annually for Chicago Public Schools, to bail out their teacher pension fund. He says CPS for years has skipped their pension payments, despite getting an annual $250 million from the state for that purpose.

Still, school superintendents across the state are calling for Rauner to sign SB1, as-is. Why? Rauner says many superintendents tell him “in private” that they’re scared House Speaker Michael Madigan will cut their funding if they don’t go along with Madigan’s Chicago bailout.

“They are petrified that Madigan will give them less or nothing,” Rauner said. “They’ve got a gun to their head, that’s why. They are so afraid of him.”

He added: “This is tyranny. This is rule by fear.”

The governor suspects the legislature will send him SB1 at the last minute — running out the clock and holding the ball for the last-second shot. The bill was approved weeks ago by the House and Senate, but Democrats say they didn’t want to risk a “knee-jerk” veto by sending it to Rauner. They’re still worried about a knee-jerk reaction to a bill approved in May?

“Why is it not on my desk?” Rauner asked. “They’re going to wait until August, when schools need the money to open. And he’s going to say, ‘Well, if you want to open, if your teachers want to actually come to work, if your kids are going to come in on those school days, you’re going to have to do the pension bailout for Chicago, otherwise school’s not going to open.’ He’s going to do the same legislative extortion technique he pulled on the tax hike.”

‘He just beats folks down’

Rauner said Madigan’s technique is what forced some lawmakers, including a handful of Republicans, to vote in favor of the tax and budget bills.

“I knew that he was putting huge pressure on members of the General Assembly — huge pressure,” Rauner said. “You know, if you’ve got a community college in your district, you cry. If you’ve got a university in your district, if you’ve got a major social service agency that had to lay off half their people because Madigan wouldn’t pass a budget, you’re feeling like, ‘I’ll do anything, Mike, whatever you want.’ That’s what he did. He’s doing it here, too. He just beats folks down until they give up.”

The governor said Madigan, who first became House speaker 34 years ago, is “the core problem of the state.”

Rauner said constituents of our local representatives, including Democrats, should be telling the reps: “Support your local teachers and your children. Put the children of your community first, not politics for Madigan, not a bailout of a bad pension system that needs to be overhauled. Keep the money in the classroom in the local communities.”

Send the bill to the governor now. Let him use his amendatory veto, and put it to a vote now.

Enough with holding the state education system hostage for another political power grab.