Rauner vows to veto bailout of Chicago Public Schools

Illinois's Governor Bruce Rauner may have lost the recent budget battle with the Democratic legislature, as they passed a tax and spending measure over his vetoes, but the governor, running for re-election in 2018, has set his sights on a school funding provision in the budget that gives a half-billion-dollar bailout to the Chicago Public School System.

The provision changed the formula for state aid to schools, moving to what Democrats call an "evidence based" formula, which is a poorly disguised way to enrich the CPS at the expense of rural and suburban schools.  The new funding formula would give the CPS a $215-million pension bailout (still far short of what's needed to close the pension funding gap) and allow the Chicago school board to keep a $250-million block-grant from Washington.

Chicago Tribune:

Rauner indicated Monday that he plans to use his veto pen to zero out CPS' pension money so that it instead would go to classrooms in rural and suburban school districts, which aren't responsible for their own pension costs.

Whether Rauner's amendatory veto would be upheld by lawmakers is an open question, but recent events at the Capitol suggest that the governor could have trouble blocking an override. Madigan would need just four Republicans to break ranks with the governor and help his 67 Democrats overturn such a veto. Unlike the tax hike vote, which was precarious even for some Democrats, making sure schools get the money they need to open their doors is a much easier vote to cast, even if opponents label it a vote in favor of bailing out Chicago.

On Monday, Rauner portrayed himself as undeterred by recent events, though he lamented what he described as "spin from Speaker Madigan's operation" that the governor has turned his back on poor, minority students in Chicago.

"That is so hurtful to me, so insulting to me," Rauner said. "I've spent 25 years of my life, my wife and I, helping improve the public schools in the city of Chicago, not only with our time but also our financial resources."

Rauner also hurled his own insults, charging that school superintendents who support the funding formula bill had been "intimidated" by Madigan and "live in fear" of the veteran speaker.

When Rauner embarked on his budget showdown with Madigan and Cullerton in spring 2015, the governor indicated "crisis creates opportunity," and he said he'd use "leverage" gained to win approval of his economic agenda.

Now the governor says he's worried that Democrats are trying to employ that strategy on him. Rauner asserted Monday that Cullerton was holding off on sending him the school funding formula bill to "create crisis and then force the pension bailout for the city of Chicago and put a new permanent structure in place that hurts our local schools every year going forward."

Asked if Rauner's theory was true, Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said "no," but would not say when the legislation would be sent to Rauner's desk.

Rauner was severely weakened by the veto override of his budget and tax bills.  He is also in the process of a massive shake-up of his staff, replacing several longtime aides with hardened conservative activists.  Republicans in the state are very nervous about his re-election chances, given his failure to reform state government, including reforms to public employee pensions.  His ideas have been stymied at every turn by Madigan and the Chicago Democrats, who pretty much control the agenda in Springfield.

But 15 Republicans broke ranks to vote to override Rauner's budget and tax vetoes.  Rauner's real worries are probably with not the Democrats, but members of his own party who gauge their own re-election chances as slim if they continue to support the unpopular governor. 

A veto of the half-billion-dollar giveaway to Chicago schools will prove popular with downstate Republicans and suburbanites who have been trending more Democratic in recent elections.  If the governor is to have any chance of winning, those voters must be inclined to give him another term to effect his bold, ambitious reforms.

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