Money for Illinois schools in limbo amid political bickering

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 26, 2017 6:13 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A special legislative session ordered by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner devolved into political bickering on Wednesday, leaving the state no closer to having a new school funding formula in place to ensure its more than 850 districts can begin classes on time.

The Republican governor accused Democrats who control the legislature of manufacturing a crisis that will hurt school children by using a parliamentary procedure to hold onto a bill they passed in late May creating an evidence-based funding formula.

Senate President John Cullerton raised concerns that Rauner's threatened use of an amendatory veto on the measure may exceed the governor's constitutional authority. He added that Rauner has refused to meet with him on the bill, which he said will be on the governor's desk by Monday.

"I'm afraid (Rauner's) acting out of anger. He's had a bad month," Cullerton told reporters, citing the legislature's enactment earlier in July of a fiscal 2018 budget and income tax hike over the governor's vetoes and a subsequent upheaval in Rauner's top staff.

State lawmakers were ordered back to work starting Wednesday to enact a new evidence-based school funding formula required by the budget before state money can flow to schools starting in August. But without any new legislation or a veto to consider, lawmakers were left with nothing to do as the governor and legislative leaders held news conferences.

Political gridlock left the nation's fifth-largest state without a complete budget for an unprecedented two-straight fiscal years. Enactment of the fiscal 2018 spending plan spared Illinois from becoming the first U.S. state with a junk credit rating.

Rauner said he will use his veto in a constitutional way to remove money wrongly inserted in the bill for Chicago Public Schools teacher pensions.

“No child in Illinois should lose a single minute of their education for political gain,” Rauner said. “Why wait until Monday to send me the bill? It’s unconscionable."

The May votes on the bill in the House and Senate fell short of a three-fifths majority threshold required to override a veto. House Speaker Michael Madigan expressed optimism the bill could survive, pointing out that some "reasonable" Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to override Rauner's budget vetoes.

"It happened then, it can happen again," he told reporters.

Madigan added that the governor's unwillingness to compromise "will keep the state in chaos for several weeks and months."

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis)