THE LOOP — Gov. Bruce Rauner offered a deal on education funding Monday that would freeze property taxes and grant hundreds of millions of dollars to Chicago Public Schools, but without explaining where the additional state education money would come from.
Saying, "School funding is the most important budget issue that we face," Rauner proposed what he called "a change in the way we fund schools in Illinois."
Bidding to break a budget impasse with state legislators, Rauner offered a statewide freeze on property taxes, increased funding for high-poverty districts, including CPS, and for the state to pick up CPS' teacher pension payments and health-care costs. He proposed what he called "pension parity" for CPS.
Rauner estimated it would provide "immediate relief of well over $400 million per year to Chicago Public Schools," adding that it allows "comprehensive ability for CPS to solve its problems financially."
CPS has said it's facing a $1.1 billion deficit in its budget due at the end of the month, and has already opened the way to borrow $1.2 billion.
"This will be great for the City of Chicago, great for the public schools of Chicago, great for taxpayers throughout the state," Rauner said.
Speaking at his office in the Thompson Center, Rauner also said any labor concessions as part of the deal would be optional for local governments. Yet he added that his proposal would allow CPS to halt a 7 percent "pension pickup" for teachers, calling for them to pay their full pension obligation.
The Chicago Teachers Union has called that a "non-starter," with CTU President Karen Lewis saying it is a "strike-worthy" issue amounting to a 7 percent cut in take-home pay.
CPS issued a chilly response to the governor's proposal, perhaps to placate the union as they seek a contract extension. "We have been clear that we will address labor questions at the negotiating table," said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner. While she cheered the move toward "pension parity," she added, "We urgently need to work together to address our budget challenges and don’t believe that mixing labor issues into this legislation will help address CPS’ fiscal situation."
Rauner insisted he was in favor of "significantly increasing state support for our public schools," pointing out, "Illinois is dead last, we're 50 out of 50 for state support for education."
Yet while saying he wanted to increase the state's education funding while freezing property taxes and avoiding a tax increase of any kind, Rauner did not say where any additional state education funding would come from, except to add that it would be part of "the budget process."
Rauner proposed creating a task force to reform state education funding, but the task force would have two members appointed by the governor, and four by the four top leaders in the General Assembly — which would almost certainly mean two Democrats and two Republicans, placing the governor's appointees in the majority.
Rauner's proposal was also loaded with changes to worker's compensation for public employees, an idea thus far resisted by the General Assembly.
"Let's focus on one piece of legislation in good faith, and let's get this done," Rauner said. He called on House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) to keep the proposed education bill intact and avoid "sham votes on individual pieces" of the legislation.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown issued a terse response, citing how the governor’s proposal lacked the backing of a majority in the General Assembly and that "the roll calls of the last eight months stand.”
"The governor's proposal is totally unacceptable," added John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago). "It's a thinly veiled series of half measures attempting to mask his intent to slash middle-class wages and benefits. That won't improve education in Illinois.
"Rather than continue to come up with ideas that simply aren't passable with either Republicans or Democrats, the governor should get behind a workable plan that actually has a chance at becoming law," Patterson said, adding that Cullerton has submitted such a bill and it has cleared the Senate and is close to a vote in the House. "If Gov. Rauner is serious about helping Chicago schools and providing relief to taxpayers across our state, he should help push the Senate president's legislation across the finish line now."
"We're trying to get movement," Rauner said. "Right now, we have done nothing."
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