SPRINGFIELD – Two local state senators had some different takes on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget address on Wednesday, specifically in regard to his proposal on school funding.
Rauner wants to cut $2 billion in state spending in part by shifting the employer’s portion of teacher pension payments to public school districts.
The Republican unveiled his plan Wednesday as part of his proposed budget for the year that begins July 1.
The pension shift would reverse a long-standing practice of the state paying local schools’ portion of pension costs. The one exception was Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago school budget paid teacher pensions until an overhaul of education funding last summer.
“It’s important to note that this comes with new money,” said State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris.
Rezin said she’s heard from school administrators in her district that they’re open to such an idea. It’s something, she said, that both Democrats and Republicans have supported in theory in the past.
Rauner would save $2 billion in state spending through the pension change and by taking health care costs out of the mix of benefits for which union employees can bargain in contract negotiations. But that must be approved by the General Assembly. The Democrats who control it likely won’t go along.
“Gov. Bruce Rauner spent months touting himself as the education governor,” Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, said in a statement. “Yet once again, his budget fails to put the necessary money into our schools to ensure the bipartisan school funding formula achieves our goals of ending years of disparities and inequality in our classrooms.”
Bertino-Tarrant, who previously worked as the Will County Regional Superintendent of Schools, said that while it is true local school districts will get more state funding in coming years, she’s not confident it would offset the potential additional costs of pension payments.
While they don’t know the specific numbers, at least one local school district didn’t seem warm to Rauner’s idea.
A statement from Plainfield Community School District 202 spokesman Tom Hernandez said, “It’s just a proposal now – one that’s been floated unsuccessfully before. We will wait to see what the Legislature does, but obviously, anything that takes money away from our students, families and community is a concern.”
Rauner’s budget proposal includes $50 million for projects to eradicate deadly Legionnaires’ diseases at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.
Legionnaires’ has contributed to the deaths of 13 residents of the home since 2015 and made dozens more ill. The illness has returned each year and officials said two more residents were diagnosed with the disease this week.
Legionnaires’ is contracted by people who inhale vapor from infected water. Rauner said in January he would replace the plumbing system at a cost of $25 million to $30 million. In his budget address Wednesday he said a newly named task force met this week to study the best remedies.
Rauner said a $1 billion tax cut should be the top priority for this year’s legislative session.
The Republican said Wednesday it could be achieved by changing the way pensions are doled out to state employees. But the pension changes are contentious and experts question whether a court would find it constitutional.
Rauner’s fourth budget address included his promised plan for a phased-in cut in last year’s income tax increase. Lawmakers increased the rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent to help pay down the state’s massive deficit. Rauner vetoed it but it was enacted anyway. Rauner said enacting pension changes would mean “a nearly $1 billion tax cut” that would allow him to “start rolling back” the rate hike.