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Column

After two wins, Madigan plays political game with school funding

In his more than 30 years as Illinois’ powerful House speaker, Michael Madigan has won far more political battles than he’s lost.

Illinois is losing big time, but what concern of that is it to Madigan? He keeps his power, and everyone else loses more and more money.

This month alone, Madigan won the battle to adopt the most expensive budget in state history without the kinds of structural reforms Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to help right the state’s fiscal ship. Think pension reform, workers’ compensation reform, deep spending cuts and property tax relief. None of these things that have been part of Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda are in place.

The speaker also won the battle to trick a handful of Republicans to vote with him and majority Democrats to stick Illinois workers with a $5 billion income tax increase that he now claims was a bipartisan decision.

Score update: Madigan 2, Rauner 0.

Now there’s a third battle brewing, and the stakes are just as high. On one side is Madigan, other Democratic lawmakers, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the failing Chicago Public School system. On the other is Rauner, GOP lawmakers and suburban and downstate taxpayers.

Way back in May, more than six weeks ago, Senate Bill 1 passed both chambers of the General Assembly on strictly a party-line vote.

The legislation funds Illinois’ K-12 school districts, but it changes the model under which schools are funded to an evidence-based one. Essentially, schools have to show they are spending the money on programs that are helping improve students’ performance.

But it does one other key thing: It ships more than $300 million in new state dollars to Chicago Public Schools every year to help bail out its failing system.

That’s a problem. CPS’ pension crisis is one of its own making. Madigan and the city’s elected officials want suburban and downstate taxpayers to bail it out.

No thank you.

So says Rauner. So say suburban and mid-state and southern Illinois taxpayers. So says Republican state Rep. Steven Reick of suburban Woodstock, who thinks taxpayers outside of the city should not pay to fix the mess created by poor city management.

“Don’t come to us asking for money when you’re not willing to charge your own people to pay your bills,” Reick said. “It’s not our fault that you [Chicago] shortchanged your pension system, and all of a sudden, you find yourselves in a funding hole.”

On his Facebook page, Reick posted a graphic detailing how much Madigan, who lives in a pretty nice southwest Chicago neighborhood, pays in taxes on his home in the city, and how much he’d pay in a similarly valued home in the suburbs and downstate.

Using publicly available data, Reick said Madigan pays about $4,600 in annual sales taxes on his $290,000 home.

If Madigan lived in a similarly valued home in Rep. Sam Yingling’s district in Round Lake Beach, he’d be paying $12,800 a year in property taxes, Reick found.

If he lived in Rep. Litesa Wallace’s district in Rockford, Madigan would pay more than $13,000 annually.

In Decatur, Rep. Sue Scherer’s district, he’d pay about $9,200 annually.

“And yet they come to the state, hat in hand, asking for more money,” Reick said, pointing out the rest of the state’s taxpayers can’t afford to bail out CPS’ mismanaged finances when they already pay the highest local and state taxes in the country.

Rauner announced this week he’ll issue an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, eliminating the CPS bailout.

There’s one problem, though. Rauner can’t do that yet because Democrats have hijacked the bill. Even though it passed in May, it hasn’t yet been sent to Rauner’s desk for his signature or amendatory veto.

And that’s because of a sad political game being played by Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

As Illinois schools prepare to open in about a month or so, they don’t yet have their fiscal 2018 funding in place because of this sick game.

In a separate budget bill, Madigan and his fellow Democrats inserted what is called a poison pill. If the evidenced-funding model that’s contained in Senate Bill 1 doesn’t become law, no schools in the state will be funded.

That means at least some, maybe many, won’t open at all. Many more won’t have enough funding to stay open for long.

The longer Democrats wait to send Rauner the bill, the closer to the school year we get.

Madigan, Cullerton and their cohorts are holding school children and their parents hostage to go 3 for 3.

“Holding that bill up until there’s so much pressure on us because of schools not opening shows that they [Democrats] are more interested in scoring a political victory than they are in doing the right thing,” Rep. Reick said. “It shows how unserious they are on solving the problem on the Democrat side than actually solving problems."

Rauner eventually will get the bill and amenditorially veto it.

When Madigan and Cullerton decide to send it to him and whether the General Assembly has a super majority of votes to override is the $300 million question for suburban and downstate taxpayers.

If two-thirds of lawmakers don't vote to override, or if they don't agree to the governor's changes, the funding bill is nixed.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking.

Dan McCaleb is news director of Illinois News Network and the digital hub ILNews.org. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at dmccaleb@ilnews.org.

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