Wednesday 20th September 2017

Senate overrides Gov. Rauner’s veto of school funding reform legislation; House up next

Senate overrides Gov. Rauner’s veto of school funding reform legislation; House up next

  • By Dan McCaleb and Greg Bishop | Illinois News Network
  • Updated 
  •  (1)

ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

Despite numbers showing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s changes to Democrats’ school funding reform bill give more money to nearly all Illinois school districts, the state Senate Sunday voted to override the governor’s amendatory veto of the measure.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, chief sponsor of Senate Bill 1, filed the motion to override even though he said he didn’t fully review an Illinois State Board of Education analysis of Rauner’s changes before calling for the override vote.

Rauner’s office released ISBE’s independent scoring of his amendatory veto Saturday. The review shows nearly 98 percent of Illinois school districts would receive more state funding under the governor’s changes than they would under Democrats’ plan in SB1. Districts that receive less funding under Rauner’s plan would still get more state money than they did last year.

Manar’s override motion was approved 38-19 on a mostly party line vote. State Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, was the only Republican to support the override effort. All Democrats voted to override.

In defending the veto override, Manar said Rauner overstepped his authority by making drastic changes to Democrats’ legislation and that lawmakers don’t know what the impact will be years down the road

“He overstepped,” Manar said. “He rewrote the entire bill. It was not a roadmap to compromise.”

But Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said Manar had to come up with some excuse after ISBE’s analysis proved most state school districts benefited from Rauner’s changes.

“If I were the sponsor, I wouldn’t want to look at the numbers that ISBE came out with just now either,” Righter said. “That’s embarrassing. So I’d want to say, ‘That’s going to be a problem three to five to ten years from now.’ I would do that as well.”

The measure now goes to the Illinois House, where Speaker Michael Madigan needs at least four GOP representatives to split with the governor to successfully override. If some Democrats in school districts that see significantly more funding under Rauner’s changes break with Madigan, the speaker will need that many more Republicans to vote for the override.

The House is scheduled to take action on Wednesday.

While the school funding measure and Rauner’s changes to it are complex, two major issues separate the competing sides. The first is over a bailout of Chicago Public Schools pensions.

On the day the General Assembly was scheduled to vote on SB1, many Republicans were prepared to support the evidenced-based model along with Democrats. But then Madigan added an amendment that increased funding to CPS by about $215 million annually to help pay for its failing pension system. Republicans withdrew their support, arguing that suburban and downstate taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to fix a crisis they had nothing to do with. Rauner’s amendatory veto would remove the additional funding for CPS.

The second issue is over how the state calculates a district’s overall wealth. While no school districts gets fewer dollars than previously, when the state budgets additional money to schools, the evidence-based model uses a complex formula to distribute those dollars based on a district’s needs. Poorer districts, essentially, receive more of the new money than wealthier ones.

But many municipalities across Illinois, especially Chicago, use what are called tax increment finance districts to hoard – and hide – cash in the name of economic development. TIFs freeze taxable property values at a certain level for up to 23 years. Any tax revenue generated above the frozen level does not go to fund intended government services such as schools, which lose out.

Essentially, taxpayers from school districts with no or very few TIF districts will end up financially supporting districts with more TIF districts under the Democrats’ plan. Under Rauner’s plan, that dynamic does not occur.

The Democrats’ plan does not include TIF revenue to calculate a district’s overall wealth. Rauner’s does.

“Should taxpayers in other communities subsidize the choice of a community that says, ‘We’re going to take some of our property tax value and property tax wealther away from funding our schools,'” Rauner said at a news conference Sunday shortly before the Senate’s veto override vote. “And because we’re making that choice, we’re going to expect the state to make up for that and subsidize that decision. That’s not fair. That’s not fair to the taxpayers in other communities.”

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Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorne Woods, said Democrats sabotaged negotiations on the bill to bail out Chicago’s failing school system.

“As one of the negotiators, I came to the table fully prepared to come to an agreement on how we can better fund our schools,” McConchie said. “However, good faith discussions never happened. In fact, the bill’s sponsor [Manar] admitted in the press that he was never really negotiating with us. Instead, the Democrats have decided to pursue a path of bailing out Chicago at any cost. It is now up to the House to reject this partisan, regionalistic politics.”

Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said SB1 – before Rauner’s veto – unfairly forces suburban and downstate taxpayers to bail out CPS.

“We want every child in this state to be adequately and fairly funded,” Brady said. “Senate Bill 1 doesn’t do that. It gives an advantage to the Chicago students at the cost of students throughout the rest of the state.”

But Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said Rauner and other Republicans were playing downstate schools against Chicago’s.

“Regionalism chokes us … at a time we know and we all agree the system we have now doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for decades,” Hutchinson said. “This is one state.”

In addition to 97.5 percent of Illinois school districts benefitting from Rauner’s plan, forty-four districts would receive more than $1 million more under it. The 2.5 percent of school districts that receive less money under Rauner’s plan still receive more than they did last year, ISBE’s review found. N

According to ISBE’s analysis, Chicago Public Schools would receive about $463 million less under Rauner’s plan than the Democrats’, but the governor’s office said that number does not account for $221 million in pension payments the state would pick up in separate legislation. CPS still would get $47.4 million more in state funding this year under Rauner’s plan than it did last year.

Complicating matters is a so-called “poison pill” that Madigan added to a separate budget bill that says no state funding will be released to any Illinois schools without an evidence-based funding formula in place such as the one contained in SB1. The first payments to schools were scheduled to be made last Thursday. They were not sent because of Madigan’s amendment to the budget bill.

Many Illinois school districts open this week. While all Illinois schools are expected to open on time regardless what happens with SB1, some will not be able to stay open for long without receiving this school year’s funding.

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