Rauner's pension proposal meets backlash
Following Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call for pension reform and tax cuts in Wednesday’s budget address, state lawmakers and midterm election candidates voiced dissent over what some called another unbalanced budget.
“We still don’t know if he’s going to get some of the reform initiatives through, whether it’s from the pension cost shift [or] the selling of the Thompson Center," Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, who is challenging Rauner in the Republican primary for governor, told reporters in a press conference. "As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much a phony budget at this point.”
During the budget address, Rauner spoke of shifting pension costs from the state to local entities.
“We will ask school districts to begin sharing the cost of their own pensions,” Rauner said. “We’ll phase in the shift over four years — in 25 percent increments per year — and give schools and local governments the tools they need to more than offset the costs.”
The rise in cost for school districts could lead to a rise in costs for local taxpayers, as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Daiber pointed out in his own press conference.
“I just heard the governor call for higher property taxes, which I oppose,” said Daiber, who is regional superintendent for Madison County. “The greatest property tax burden falls on our school districts, and asking for a cost shift to go to them when it’s the area complained about the most by taxpayers should be uncalled for.”
In a written statement, Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who sponsored a school funding reform bill that passed last summer, said that the governor's proposal is a financial setback for schools.
“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,” Manar said. Senate president John Cullerton, D-Chicago, echoed the concern.
“I met with the governor this morning," Cullerton said in a written statement. "He said he wants to roll back taxes and put more money in education. Here’s the problem. His budget does the opposite. He spends the entire tax increase. And he cuts money for education. ... It’s almost like he doesn’t know what his budget does. I can’t explain the disconnect. It seems intentionally deceptive and it’s troubling.
Rauner's speech was "illogical" and didn't fulfill the governor's constitutional duty to present a balanced budget, said Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Chicago, who is running for lieutenant governor behind gubernatorial candidate Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston. Biss also blasted Rauner's presentation.
"[Rauner] claims he’s for education, but he wants to solve the pension debt problem on the backs of schoolchildren and property tax payers," Biss said.
But Rauner seems to have support from Republicans, who applauded him several times during his speech.
Senate Republican leader for the Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said, “What the governor’s outlined is, I think, a very fair and equitable way to increase funding for education, yet reduce other expenses so that we can have a balanced budget,” said Republican Senate minority leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.
Brady said that school districts will be able to manage the pension cost shift with “tools” so that Rauner will offer to reduce other expenditures, though he didn’t go into detail about what those tools might be.
“I think what [Rauner’s] put forward is balanced and realistic," said Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington. "Obviously, the legislature’s going to need to make some tough choices this spring, but the fact of the matter is that people of this state are asking us to look differently at how we spend their money.”
Manar said it could have, and has been, worse.
“If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this is more of a budget proposal than Gov. Rauner has ever given us,” Manar said. “Now we can roll up our sleeves and begin negotiations.”
Megan Swett is an editorial intern for Illinois Times through the public affairs reporting program of University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.