Commentary: Larry’s state lawsuit may be necessary

By Shane Nicholson 
Managing Editor 

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey last week floated the idea of cities across the state joining arms behind the Municipal League in a legal challenge to the ongoing budget crisis.

“Right now, we could last several months with the cash we have on hand,” the mayor said about the city’s finances. “But the schools wouldn’t open in the fall and then you’d have a cascading effect throughout not only Rockford but cities all across the state.”

And it’s the cold reality of the situation facing Illinois that a court action may ultimately be what’s needed to bring an end to the budget impasse that has engulfed the state for a full calendar year.

While movement in Springfield on Monday and Tuesday pointed toward a possible end to the impasse, Gov. Bruce Rauner and his counterparts in the state legislature showed they’re still far apart on what should be the most basic of needs the state must provide: education.

A budget proposal put forward by the Democrats in the Assembly nearly tripled the amount of funds Rauner planned to commit to K-12 schools in the state, putting the hope of finding a solution to Illinois’ shameful financial stand straight back in limbo after a couple days of positive movements. The reaction was wholly predictable.

“While we have essentially reached agreement on a six-month stopgap budget,” said Rauner, “the super majority is focused on passing a school funding bill that forces suburban and downstate taxpayers to pay for a massive bailout of the severely mismanaged Chicago Public Schools system.”

“Instead of doing the hard work of fixing Illinois’ broken education funding formula, Bruce Rauner has wasted 18 months of his term holding the entire state hostage in the name of workers’ compensation and right to work,” replied Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Bruce Rauner is doubling down on the failed formula that rewards wealthy children who grow up in elite communities and penalizes poor children in Chicago and across the state, and he is standing behind Illinois’ ignominious distinction of being 48th in the nation for education funding. That is the real tragedy.”

It’s an embarrassing state for Illinois to be in, and one that may require judicial intervention at the behest of the Municipal League to navigate out of.

“We have a (state) constitution,” Morrissey told me last Thursday, before traveling to Springfield Monday to stand beside Rauner in calling for a short-term budget fix. “That constitution requires that we have a budget, that the budget is passed, and that the budget is balanced. If our leaders can’t fulfill that duty then someone goes to court and a judge makes them fulfill that duty.”

If legal recourse is our best hope, then so be it. Our “leaders” in Springfield have failed and their time to find solutions has run out.

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