By Tom Schuba, nbcchicago.com
Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a $215 million funding bill for Chicago Public Schools Thursday, claiming Democratic leaders backed out of a deal to pass comprehensive pension reform by the end of the current General Assembly.
During a Thursday press conference, Senate President John Cullerton denied that there was ever an agreement and urged Rauner to sign the CPS funding bill.
“The governor just indicated that he wasn’t gonna sign [the CPS funding bill] because of his desire to have some kind of pension reform,” Cullerton told reporters. “It was very vague, there was never any agreement by us as to what that might be.”
The country’s third-largest school district has a “junk” status from credit agencies and was counting on the money to pay the employer’s contribution to teachers’ pensions.
But shortly after Cullerton’s comments, Rauner vetoed the bill. His decision will stand unless the General Assembly is able to override the veto.
“President Cullerton suddenly denied that the leaders had agreed that this bill would depend upon first enacting comprehensive pension reform,” Rauner wrote in his veto message. “Breaking our agreement undermines our effort to end the budget impasse and enact reforms with bipartisan support.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the decision “reckless and irresponsible.”
“Make no mistake, it’s our children who will pay the price,” he said in a statement. “The governor is lashing out, imperiling the system-wide gains earned by Chicago students and teachers, and proving just the latest example of his willingness to put the burden of his failures on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, whether it’s schoolchildren, college students, seniors, or those living with disabilities. This is no way to run a state.”
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool also said Rauner “acted impusively and recklessly” and that he “has put us right back to where we started.”
“Governor Rauner’s actions threaten the progress of nearly 400,000 innocent children,” Claypool said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “Children who have nothing to do with the governor’s legislative standoff in Springfield, children who did not do anything to create the dysfunction in Springfield, children who simply want to receive their fair share of resources to complete the school year.”
His comments were echoed by the Chicago Teachers Union, which said the veto should be “a wake-up call” to Emanuel.
“Chicago’s public schools have suffered from irreparable cuts, including cuts to essential special education funding,” the CTU said in a statement. “Today’s veto should be a wake-up call to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to denounce the governor and use his influence with the financial sector to make good on promises to fund our schools. It is unacceptable for both the governor and the mayor to allow our district to languish at such a great cost to our communities and the services and institutions they depend on.”
This perhaps is the latest example of the political gamesmanship playing out in Springfield. Despite meeting throughout the veto session, Rauner and the state’s top leaders are still miles apart on a budget compromise.
“The election is over,” Rauner wrote. “Despite my repeated request for daily negotiations and hope to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of the week, we are no closer to ending the impasse or enacting pension reform.”
Throughout negotiations, House Speaker Michael Madigan has championed the budget framework that’s been used on seven budgets over the past two years. In response, Rauner and Republicans claim those budgets were out of balance and incomplete.
The governor released a Facebook video Thursday explaining that he would only consider another stopgap funding compromise if the General Assembly passes elements of his “turnaround agenda,” like term limits and a permanent property tax freeze.
“A year ago the speaker said he wants to raise our income tax back up to at least five percent, without reforms,” Rauner said in the video. “Now he wants to delay that plan and instead simply wants to pass another stopgap budget, ignoring reforms and plunging our state even further into debt.”
“This is unacceptable,” he added.