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Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 12:19 am

It’s only fair

Rauner’s principled opposition to SB 1

krohe
Bruce Rauner
PHOTO Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Gov. Bruce Rauner at a press conference Aug. 1 announcing his amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1.
PHOTO BY LEE MILNER

 


Sooner or later, every rookie reporter must face the ugly facts: Somewhere, sometime, there will be a school board meeting she will have to cover. A veteran opinion monger like me faces a similar dilemma. As he seeks to meet readers’ demands for wisdom on a deadline, he must occasionally write about education funding. The fingers grow numb, the spirit rebels. But public schools matter, and state funding matters to public schools.

At issue at the moment is the fate of Senate Bill 1. Bruce Rauner has rewritten it in ways that kill at birth a new formula that would have finally remedied decades-old inequities in the way the state parcels out school aid. Under the proposal – which existed in large part because of the mulish persistence of state senator Andy Manar – every local school district would get what it gets now, but districts with lots of low-income kids would get more. Also, before Rauner’s amendatory veto, the state would have started funding Chicago Public Schools’ teacher pension and retiree health insurance costs, which costs are already being paid for every other district in the state by the state of Illinois.

Bills like SB1 are why representative government was invented, being complex by nature and thus beyond easy comprehension by the booboisie. Rauner, who has a well-thumbed copy of The ALEC Guide to the Propaganda Arts on his bedtable, has tried help out us dim bulbs by reducing the debate to three words: “Chicago,” “Madigan” (Downstate dialect for “Chicago”) and “bailout.”

Specifically, the governor and his backup singers refer to the Democrat-backed SB 1 as “a massive taxpayer funded Chicago bailout” because, as noted, the state would henceforth take responsibility for funding Chicago teacher pensions like it does for every other district. Unmentioned is the fact that the State of Illinois has been “bailing out” Downstate school districts since just after Lincoln’s horse died. The state does so by paying their share of their teachers’ pension costs while Chicago taxpayers paid not only their own teachers’ pension costs but (through their state taxes) those in other districts too.

Rauner insists this would be throwing good money after bad, because CPS has mismanaged its pension programs and, as his stewardship of the executive branch shows, Bruce Rauner knows mismanagement when he sees it. But as Crain’s excellent Greg Hinz has pointed out, the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System, into which state taxpayers pour billions, has only 39.8 percent of the assets needed to pay expected liabilities compared to CPS’s 52.4 percent, so Downstate and suburban systems have, collectively, managed their money even worse.

There are other bits too. (It’s all so complicated that the governor needs to pay people to explain it for him – and to him, judging by his remarks about it.) The larger thrust of the changes affecting Chicago is to begin putting CPS on the same funding basis as the rest of the state. Rauner argues that fixing past unfairness is unfair, and has said he wants to take that money and hand it out instead to suburban and downstate districts, thus bailing them out at CPS’s expense. I am heartened by the number of Downstate school superintendents who have said that they oppose this. (District 186’s Jennifer Gill backs SB 1 as written.)

I get that Chicago-bashing thrills the rubes, Rauner’s natural constituency, and thus his amendatory veto might boost his approval rating from today’s 8 percent to 9, maybe even 10 percent. But Illinoisans are not all rubes. Such action is not in the electoral interests of either what’s left of the old Republican Party or the new, bought-and-paid for Rauner Party, with which the GOP is in an alliance of convenience. It is however consistent with his agenda.

I have spent as much as 10 minutes at a time thinking about Sir Rauner and his quest to deliver our innocent children from the hands of organized predators on the public purse – that is, unionized school teachers. I believe he understands, and accepts, that life is unfair. Not everyone does. Labor unions, for example, make it possible for those unfairly born on the bottom to organize themselves to take back some of the property, power and privilege enjoyed by those unfairly born on the top. Rauner-ish libertarians in contrast are convinced that remedying unfairness as an aim of social policy – the bedrock of liberal social thought – is inimical, if not immoral. They don’t oppose fairness because it is cheered by liberals. They oppose liberals because they are cheered by the hope of fairness. And fairness is, or was, the point of SB 1. 

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.
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