By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – Governor Bruce Rauner made his annual budget proposal recently, drawing fire for seeking to shift $1.3 billion in pension costs to school districts and state universities and cut $470 million from employee healthcare costs by removing that benefit from collective bargaining with unions.
The budget proposes shifting certain education-related pension costs to schools and universities by 25 percent annually over a four-year period. The shift would cost school districts $490 million in fiscal 2019.
The Illinois Association of School Boards said this would revoke the promise of higher funding under a school financing law enacted last year.
“With the new pension burden, hundreds of school districts will be receiving a cut in education funding under the governor’s budget plan,” the group said in a statement.
Universities would be hit with $206 million in higher pension and healthcare costs.
The total budget calls for $37.6 billion in spending against $38 billion in revenue, taking full advantage of the budget compromise and tax increase Rauner opposed but that was pushed through by Democrats and Republicans last year.
Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery called it “yet another budget built with fairy dust.”
“Rauner claims his budget is balanced, but it relies on phony savings and a hope that we’ll forget his lack of leadership or honesty for the past three years,” Montgomery said.
“The governor used all of his power to try to stop last year’s budget compromise between Democratic and Republican lawmakers,” she said. “He repeatedly sidetracked negotiations and moved the goal posts to make a resolution nearly impossible.”
The pension ploy is more of the same, she said. “Last year, Governor Rauner vetoed a school funding package that added nearly $2 million in state funding to local schools. Now, he’s again attempting to strip money from the classrooms while simultaneously increasing local property taxes by forcing Metro East homeowners to pick up the cost of the state’s bills.”
She noted that the proposals includes no mechanism for beginning to pay down the backlog of bills accrued during the budget impasse.
ANOTHER ATTACK ON EDUCATION, WORKERS AND FAMILIES
Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and sponsor of Illinois’ landmark school funding reform overhaul, called the proposal “another thinly veiled attack on public education, public-sector workers and downstate families.”
Said Manar: “It’s not the first time he’s proposed gutting health care for retired teachers, prison guards, veterans home workers, child welfare specialists and thousands of other public employees in central and southern Illinois.
“The governor relies heavily on shifting costs from the state to local government to make his math appear to add up. Here’s the problem: when you look at the combined effect of his proposals, it would result in a net decrease in state support for Illinois public schools – to the tune of nearly $1 billion less.”
The best news was that Rauner actually provided a budget proposal, unlike in past years, Manar added.
“Now we can roll up our sleeves and begin negotiations,” Manar added. “Lawmakers laid the groundwork for financial stability last year, and the governor chose to sit on the sidelines. This year we must continue to push for stability, and I hope he will join us, not work against us.”
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PHONY ACCOUNTING, DELUSIONAL SAVINGS
Representative Jay Hoffman, (D-Swansea), said Rauner hasn’t changed since he took office three years ago.
“The governor has introduced three budgets full of phony accounting and delusional savings at the expense of middle-class, working families,” Hoffman said.
“His manufactured budget crisis has shaken our state to its core, slamming service providers across the state and rolling back lifesaving health care support to those in dire need of medical attention.”
“He claims to be investing more money in our public schools, yet last year’s funding still hasn’t reached our most vulnerable students because of the Governor’s political demands. When you do the math instead of taking him at his word, you learn that the new money he’s proposing today will be offset by additional costs he wants to impose.”
State Representative Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) said Rauner’s belated embrace of the budget compromise was sheer hypocrisy.