Promising relief to the pension dilemma for Chicago Public Schools, on Monday with a property tax freeze, but asking for limitations to collective bargaining for city employees, limiting the amount of compensation for job related injuries, and CPS teachers being forced to pay for their own pensions is the latest in the ongoing battle between Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state’s Democrat controlled General Assembly, the city of Chicago and its mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
Sticking close to the Republican gubernatorial playbook, Rauner’s actions have been rejected previously, and will still remain so, even in the absence of a statement from Emanuel. The Chicago Tribune reported his plea, “We’ve got to get control on this budget,” Rauner said at a news conference at the Thompson Center in Chicago. “We’ve got to take action. And we’re asking the General Assembly to focus, let’s focus on one piece of legislation in good faith, and let’s get this done.” He also has included a much desired reformulation of how schools are funded in Illinois.
“Totally unacceptable,” was the reaction by Democratic State Senator John Cullerton spokesperson John Patterson,who also said, “It’s a thinly veiled series of half measures attempting to mask his intent to slash middle-class wages and benefits.”
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner in her statement that said they don’t “believe that mixing labor issues into this legislation will help address CPS’ fiscal situation.”
Rauner’s refusal to work with the General Assembly unless they agree to changes, and limitations, in collective bargaining has left the state without a legislated budget for 2 months and while 8 out of 10 bills are being paid with residual funds, that don’t require budget approval, and other procedures, the impasse has left the country’s 5th most populous state teetering on an economic abyss while its largest city is well on its way to economic disaster with underfunded pensions, debt obligations, high borrowing costs and relegation to junk bond status, which may just force it to bankruptcy, along with its schools, the second largest system in the nation.
His anti-union stance has left some lawmakers baffled, “It’s a recurring theme of connecting unrelated things,” says Sen.Kwame Raoul, who acts as a key negotiator on workers’ compensation issues. “What’s the rationale for differentiating public employees from employees in the private sector? It’s just going to be more unfair to a public employee who may have been legitimately injured on the job and you are going to deprive them of protections, noted the Tribune.
Observers have noted that a bill that would freeze property taxes and provide pension relief has been proposed, and may be acted on, by the House, without the union restrictions, and has the support of Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan. The Senate also has its own bill calling for a property freeze, and $200 million in payment for the CPS. and also a revision of the state school funding formula.
The chance that Rauner’s proposal would ever come to fruition is nigh to impossible, and Democrats are adamant in their opposition. Where this standoff will end no one can guess, but it’s obvious that the current stalemate is not good for either party, or person, but particularly for the schools, who if the needed funds – projected at $480 million – does not materialize, then there would be deeper classroom cuts, thousands of teacher layoffs, resulting in increased class sizes. At present there will be 479 scheduled teacher layoffs due to enrollment and budget cuts, and taxpayers will pay more property taxes to help fill the gap, without some relief.