Short-Term Budget Fix For Illinois Close, But Not Schools

Bruce Rauner
Gov. Bruce Rauner AP, file
Bruce Rauner
Gov. Bruce Rauner AP, file

Short-Term Budget Fix For Illinois Close, But Not Schools

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday he’s close to a compromise with Democratic lawmakers on a partial-year budget plan with just three days left in the fiscal year, but the gap between the two sides on a second measure to open public schools on time became apparent late in the day.

Senate Democrats released to The Associated Press a school-funding plan that would outspend Rauner’s by more than $500 million.

Rauner told reporters he wants the General Assembly, which returns to session on Wednesday for the first time in a month, to OK the two plans he favors and keep government operating past the close of the budget year on June 30.

The first-term Republican governor, who for the second year has been unable to negotiate a full-year blueprint with Democrats who control the General Assembly, claims Democrats won’t ensure the school bell rings in August unless Rauner capitulates to a “bailout” for the financially troubled Chicago Public Schools. Rauner proposed a $235 million increase in school spending in his plan.

“Let’s pass the stopgap budget which is pretty well baked, and pretty well agreed to, and let’s make sure our schools open,” said Rauner, who was accompanied by the mayors of several Illinois cities. “Don’t do blackmail on the people of Illinois, holding up the schools’ opening to bail out CPS.”

Democrats want to change the formula used to distribute state money to schools to make it fairer and maintain that Chicago needs a significant funding boost because its schools have been shortchanged by that formula.

There’s no formula adjustment in the latest Senate plan, which would provide $200 million less in education funding than the Senate approved in May but the House rejected.

The new plan would send $286 million more to Chicago schools. That’s a 30 percent increase that puts it in the top 5 percent of districts getting the biggest percentage increases, but not at the top of the list.

“This is nothing more than a backdoor bailout of the severely mismanaged Chicago public school system,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in a statement.

Illinois is the only state without a budget agreement for this fiscal year, and is on the brink of starting its second. Rauner and Democrats have been squabbling for more than a year. The governor has insisted on cost-cutting changes in law to boost business, freeze property taxes, curb union influence, and adopt political term limits and fairer ways to draw legislative districts. Democrats contend the priority should be spending cuts and a tax increase to get control of a multibillion-dollar deficit.

Rauner has put aside his so-called “turnaround agenda” in the interest of partial fixes. But the measures introduced by Republican legislative leaders in late May for a short-term budget and school spending were inadequate, Democrats said. Rank-and-file lawmakers have negotiated behind the scenes during June.

Steve Brown, spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, reported “good progress” on the stopgap measure because Democrats insisted on “the improvement in what was a meager amount for higher education.” Brown said if the mayors who backed up Rauner Monday are pushing for the legislation the GOP introduced last month, they’re shorting colleges and universities by $400 million.

Both chambers approved education funding bills last month that significantly boosted spending — the House by $700 million, the Senate by $950 million. The House plan was part of an overall $40 billion annual budget — at least $7 billion more than the state expects to get in revenue.