CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Thursday blew a $215 million hole in the budget of the Chicago Public Schools by vetoing a bill that would have provided pension help, saying that Democratic leaders had not done enough to solve the state's pension crisis and reach a long-term deal.
That decision — unless the General Assembly overrides Rauner's veto — means that Chicago schools could face midyear cuts for the second year in a row.
Rauner blamed Illinois Senate President John Cullerton for torpedoing a compromise inked in June that allowed schools to open in September. Part of that deal promised Chicago schools an additional $215 million to help cover its pension obligations — in return for statewide "pension reform," a long-held goal of the governor.
However, Cullerton said in a statement that he did not break the agreement and was willing to continue hammering out an agreement with the governor on pension reform.
In a message to legislators, Rauner said he would not sign the bill because it would amount to a "bailout" for CPS.
"Without reforms to solve our structural problems, taxpayer money would continue to be wasted on bailout after bailout," Rauner said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called Rauner's action "reckless and irresponsible."
"Make no mistake, it’s our children who will pay the price," Emanuel said in a statement from Mexico, where he attended a summit on climate change.
"The governor is lashing out, imperiling the system-wide gains earned by Chicago students and teachers, and proving just the latest example of his willingness to put the burden of his failures on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, whether it’s schoolchildren, college students, seniors, or those living with disabilities," Emanuel said. "This is no way to run a state.”
The Chicago Teachers Union, whose members have been highly critical of the governor, said Rauner's move was no surprise.
"Chicago public schools have suffered from irreparable cuts, including cuts to essential special education funding," the union said in a statement. "Today’s veto should be a wake-up call to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to denounce the governor and use his influence with the financial sector to make good on promises to fund our schools. It is unacceptable for both the governor and the mayor to allow our district to languish at such a great cost to our communities and the services and institutions they depend on."
With the mayor out of the country, school district CEO Forrest Claypool led the charge against the governor, calling Rauner's action reckless a half-dozen times and accusing him of holding Chicago's 400,000 school children "hostage" to his political agenda.
Rauner "reneged on a promise to Chicago's students and parents" and is using "innocent" children as "pawns in a political game," Claypool said.
"We are going to fight, and we are going to fight with everything we have" to convince the Illinois House to override the governor's decision.
If the governor's decision stands, it will "violate the civil rights" of Chicago's children and could prompt a court challenge, Claypool said.
"We will not allow Chicago's children to be collateral damage in a political fight," Claypool said, calling the governor's action "impulsive" and prompted by "pique."
"Rauner is back to being part of the problem," Claypool said.
As recently, as Nov. 2, Claypool said he expected the governor to give the school district the $215 million, which the district's budget relies on.
Claypool declined to say how the district planned to make ends meet without the additional money. The district, which has a low credit rating, would be hard pressed to borrow the money, forcing the officials to impose cuts at schools across the city or imposing a tax hike.
"It puts us in a difficult position," Claypool said. "The fact that it comes in the middle of the year means it will inflict maximum damage."
Almost immediately after the governor's announcement, the Illinois Senate voted to override Rauner's veto. The Illinois House could consider overriding the veto as soon as Thursday afternoon.
Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan have been locked in a bitter fight over the Illinois budget.
The governor wants lawmakers to adopt his agenda, which he says will spur business growth in Illinois as part of a budget agreement. Democrats have refused, and the impasse lasted nearly two years.
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