Gov. Rauner Signs Illinois' Stopgap Spending Deal | WBEZ
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Gov. Rauner Signs Illinois' Stopgap Spending Deal

(Audio has not been updated to reflect the governor's signing of the bill. Press play to hear the ins and outs of the deal.)

After a year and a half of bickering and unbending demands, Illinois lawmakers were moved to compromise on a stopgap budget by a powerful force: a high-stakes November election and an already disgusted voting public that one legislative leader described as on the verge of "revolt."

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation Thursday evening to keep the state government operating for six months and schools open for another year, a rare deal hammered out with Democratic leaders who control the General Assembly just days before Friday's start of the new fiscal year.

The plan approved Thursday allows Rauner and legislators up for re-election this fall to head into the campaign season without the looming threat of shuttered schools, lost road construction jobs, utility shutoffs at prisons or further cuts to colleges and social service agencies.

— The Associated Press

After a year of divisions between Republican and Democratic leadership at the Illinois statehouse that has seen petty political bickering , but also wide gaps in political and economic philosophies between the two sides, lawmakers Thursday are poised to vote on a spending plan to keep schools open and fund state operations through the November election.

The stopgap budget proposal is the result of two days of private negotiations between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, who both oversee Democratic supermajorities in their respective chambers.

The potential budget compromise addresses several financial and political issues that have haunted elected officials for the past several years, including:

  • Calls to change the underfunded retirement systems of state employees.

  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s complaints that city residents pay into both the pension systems of city teachers and suburban and downstate teachers.

  • How much school districts with residents who have low property values should rely on state funding.

For the past year, both Democratic and Republican leaders have dug into their respective sides, holding rallies to gin up support for not compromising with the other side. Rauner has been lauded by groups representing businesses around the state for his message that the state should change workers compensation, limit collective bargaining and freeze property taxes. He has repeated throughout his time as governor that those policy changes would bring an influx of businesses into the state, which would help bring in additional revenue to the state.

Madigan and Cullerton have addressed rallies held by labor groups, arguing that the policies Rauner is advocating for would be to the detriment of working class residents.

Most recently, the fight between the two sides has centered around school funding , as Chicago Public Schools, by far the state’s largest school district, threatened to not open its doors in the Fall if state officials could not agree on an education budget. Rauner has said CPS’s demand for more state money would only support the school system’s long-financially mismanaged system, and suburban and downstate voters would be footing the bill.

“They’ve run their school system as much or more for patronage and political purposes than they have to educate their children,” Rauner said earlier this week. “It’s a failure on the part of the mayor. It’s a failure on the part of CPS leadership. And what’s patently unfair is for them to try to force Illinois taxpayers, families across the state, to bailout that failure.”

“You can’t treat children differently” Madigan told reporters Tuesday. “That doesn’t work in the United States of America. A child in Chicago is just as entitled to an education as a child outside the City of Chicago.”

Under the proposed budget compromise, there would be a $485 million increase for K-12 schools over the current year, said Sen. Pam Althoff. The plan includes the $235 million general increase the Republican governor proposed and a $250 million "equity" grant to help schools across the state with low-income students. Chicago would get $100 million of the equity grant funding, said GOP Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford.

Part of the deal also would allow Chicago to raise its property taxes to pay for teachers’ pensions. The city also raised property taxes last year.

The emerging plan calls for a $673 million increase for human services programs, including $20 million to restore programs that Rauner suggested eliminating, Althoff said. Many social services were not paid in the past 12 months that the state has gone without a budget. Some of those organizations, including one run by Rauner’s wife, Diana, have sued the state for payment. That lawsuit is still pending. Still others laid off workers and ended services altogether.

There is also $1 billion for colleges and universities — about 85 percent of what they received the last time the state approved higher-education funding. Public universities limped along the last year without state funding. The plan is to give those hardest hit — Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University and Chicago State University — an extra funding boost after they document their funding woes, Syverson said.

Details of the compromise came as several newspapers across Illinois coordinated their front pages to call for a deal. The Daily Show this week also lambasted lawmakers for not reaching a compromise in the past year. Even President Barack Obama gave a speech to state lawmakers earlier this year to address the political impasse and encourage a deal.

While the compromise would fund education for a full year, it pays for other services for just six months. That means lawmakers would have to address the funding of several government services after the November election.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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