Latest fight at Illinois Capitol threatens money for schools

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, center, flanked by Republican members of both chambers speaks during a news conference during the second day of a special session on education funding at the Illinois State Capitol, Thursday, July 27, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. Rauner summoned lawmakers with the task of resolving a fight over a new funding calculation. Both chambers have approved a plan, but the Senate has refused to send it to Rauner, who says he'll rewrite it over objections to money that Chicago will get. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

The Associated Press

Illinois House Republicans can't have it both ways. On Wednesday, they'll either stand with Gov. Bruce Rauner or their constituents.

There's no middle ground.

The House is slated for two make-or-break veto overrides, one highly touted and the other much less sexy. Both resulted from Rauner's heavy hand with the veto pen. And both could die on the proverbial vine if House Republicans choose political expediency over the most basic tenets of governance. 

First, there's SB 1, a simmering political battle that, on the governor's end, is more about the need for a political victory than effective governance. Basically all political stripes in Illinois agree that the state's formula for funding public school districts is unfair, draconian and undercuts property-poor districts. SB 1 is, in fact, the direct result of years of study, much of which was conducted by Rauner appointees.

But, hot off a substantial political defeat over the state budget, the freshman Republican governor doubled down. He tapped anti-Chicago parochialism to justify his veto of SB 1. Rauner's eye is solely focused on whipping up support downstate. To that end, he's politicized and minimized the education of students in Chicago Public School District (CPS), an admittedly broken district, but one with a surplus of poor neighborhoods. He's minimized the economic contribution Illinois' sole metro contributes to the state in taxes and culture. And he's threatened payments to districts in East Moline, Bloomington and Decatur, a fact that would ultimately cost local taxpayers after schools go out for loans to keep the lights on. 

This assertion is only reinforced by the backward approach Rauner and his disciples used to justify his veto. They came at it with a pre-determined conclusion. And, ever since, they've tossed excuses at the wall hoping one would stick. One day it's a "bail out," a quickly debunked talking point. The next, it's about Chicago's over-reliance on tax increment financing. Sure, a debate about TIFs is long overdue. And the state's busted pension system is indeed in need of drastic overhaul. But holding students hostage isn't the appropriate hammer with which to pound those nails.

SB 1 is bound to get almost all the attention, but it's not the only override on the House agenda.

Simply put, Rauner's opposition to the Debt Transparency Act (DTA) is unjustifiable from a man who pledged to bring business sense to Springfield. The legislation is simple enough: Require executive agencies to report bills every month. As things now stand, agencies must only report their debts every October. Any business would be cooked if it managed its books in the blind, like Illinois does now. It made so much sense, in fact, that nine House Republicans, including Tony McCombie, R-Savannah, initially supported it. They should stick by their convictions and help override Rauner's ham-fisted veto.  

This is about accurately balancing the books. Nothing more. Nothing less. And yet, Rauner's prolonged spat with Comptroller Susana Mendoza superseded even the basic principles of accounting. As expected, Rauner griped about such an allegedly onerous mandate. In essence, his veto is a direct assault on transparency and sound financial practices. In effect, Rauner endorsed a state operation that cuts checks without actually knowing what's owed. It's utter madness.

In most legislative cycles, all this would be dealt with in September's veto session. The 15-day clock, required for legislative action, wouldn't begin until then. But, that's not the case this year since the House convenes Wednesday to take up SB 1. Lawmakers have 15 days as of Wednesday morning to override the DTA veto, which was only issued on Friday. 

House Republicans find themselves in a bind. Rauner's war chest is massive and his personal wealth could fuel primary challenges against any Republican who opposes him. He's desperate for a win and willing to punish any defectors.

House Republicans can either show themselves part of the solution when the override votes reach the floor. Or they can stand with Rauner and contribute to more senseless dysfunction.  

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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