By Sophia Tareen
SPRINGFIELD — The agenda was scant and attendance light Wednesday, the opening day of a special session called by Gov. Bruce Rauner to resolve a funding fight that’ll determine whether schools get state money before the start of the academic year.
Instead, the Republican governor and Democratic leaders pointed fingers over who’s hindered progress, a familiar scenario in a state that only recently ended an unprecedented two-year budget impasse.
Rauner summoned the Democrat-majority Legislature to Springfield after it failed to meet his deadline to send him a plan that rewrites how Illinois doles out school funds. Rauner has threatened to rewrite and send back the plan over objections to additional money for Chicago Public Schools, but refused to detail his changes. Both chambers approved the proposal but the Senate hasn’t sent it to Rauner.
Senate President John Cullerton said he won’t do so until Monday, dropping expectations for any resolution the rest of the week. The Chicago Democrat explained that he first wanted to meet with Rauner to negotiate because there’s no backup and the plan dies if lawmakers are unable to override Rauner’s changes, which requires a three-fifths majority vote. He said Rauner has refused to meet.
Cullerton also questioned Rauner’s “mental state” after lawmakers, including Republicans, defied Rauner and voted in favor of a budget with an income tax increase earlier this month. Since then, at least 20 members of Rauner’s administration have either been fired or resigned.
“I’m afraid he’s acting out of anger,” Cullerton said. “He’s having a bad month.”
Rauner, in two Capitol news conferences, demanded Cullerton send him the bill immediately and called the delay “unconscionable.” He accused Cullerton of refusing to meet until Monday and blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan, the longest-serving House speaker in the country who’s been the source of much of Rauner’s criticism. Rauner claimed Democrats are manufacturing a school funding crisis.
“This has been vicious manipulation of the democratic process for political gain for a political machine,” Rauner told reporters.
Meanwhile, Madigan said Rauner is failing to negotiate.
“The governor has adopted a no-compromise position to keep the state in chaos for several weeks at once,” he said.
Both chambers adjourned without taking up any action. Attendance was noticeably low with dozens absent. Two House Democrats boycotted to work on a service project for children.
“We have nothing to do in this chamber,” House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie said on the floor.
A school funding overhaul is required because the budget lawmakers approved says schools must get funding through an “evidence-based model.” Both parties agree the current, decades-old calculation is unfair, but they’ve clashed over proposed changes.
The first state payment to schools is due Aug. 10. While most districts say they have reserves to open on time, questions remain about how long they can operate without state funds.
The proposal in question funnels money to the neediest districts first after ensuring no district receives less money than last school year. The plan includes additional pension help for Chicago, the only Illinois district that picks up the employer’s portion of teacher pension costs.
Also Wednesday, Rauner signed a plan that halts automatic increases of lawmaker cost-of-living pay adjustments, mileage reimbursement and other costs. The move means the price tag of the costly special session — roughly $48,000 for a single day — remains the same.
Rauner called the new law an important step for taxpayers. He said he justified the special session cost because “children come first.”