Miller: Is Rauner trying to sabotage SB 1?

Aug 07, 2017

Opinion

The education funding reform bill which passed the House and Senate in May and was finally sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk in July was the product of four years of research, endless listening tours and lots of hard bargaining.

The House Democrats changed some things at the last minute to benefit Chicago and the governor didn’t like it, but his own education czar claimed the governor still approved of “90 percent” of the legislation.

However, when Gov. Rauner issued his amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1 last week, he introduced a bunch of new ideas that had never been on the table, including during endless discussions among members of his own education funding reform commission.

These new ideas are poisoning the already putrid Statehouse water and are prompting some folks to suspect that the governor’s new top staffers from the Illinois Policy Institute are attempting to sabotage the bill.

The far-right group is on record opposing the whole idea of the “evidence-based” school funding formula contained in the Democrats’ SB1 and endorsed by the governor’s funding reform commission and by Republicans in both legislative chambers. Could some of those same people who are now running Rauner’s office be out to kill off the progress made over the years?

Historically in Illinois, the best way to keep suburban and Downstate Republicans from voting for a bill is to label it a “Chicago bailout.” Gov. Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute have done so repeatedly with SB1, even though Politifact has rated the claim “false” and the almost always pro-Rauner Chicago Tribune editorial board has stated it is not a bailout.

Gov. Rauner’s amendatory veto would change the way school districts currently calculate how much property tax revenue they can no longer capture after other local governments create Tax Increment Financing districts. Existing state law recognizes the reality that the school districts won’t receive that money, but the governor’s proposal would order the State Board of Education to ignore that reality.

Doing that would put enormous financial pressure on schools, which might then lead to some reforms of the TIF laws. The Illinois Policy Institute wants to get rid of TIFs. I don’t disagree with them, but I’d rather than we not use school kids’ education as the hammer to do it.

Keeping it Chicago-centric, the Illinois Policy Institute pointed last week to Cook County Clerk David Orr’s claim that Chicago’s TIF money accounts for almost 10 percent of all property tax revenue billed within the city. In suburban Cook, Orr reports, TIF revenues equal about 3.5 percent of property tax bills.

Nobody involved with the funding reform negotiations has ever publicly proposed changing the way the State Board of Education projects school districts’ potential property tax revenue collections by essentially wishing away the impact of the state property tax cap law (known as PTELL). Nobody, that is, until the governor issued his amendatory veto.

Partly because Chicago is so large and has so much property wealth (particularly in the Loop area), it benefits more than anywhere else from the property tax cap school “subsidy,” as the Illinois Policy Institute calls it. The group wants to get rid of that “subsidy.”

But the political danger here is clear. By going after Chicago so hard and making its school district look “wealthier” than it really is by officially pretending that it can capture more tax money than it really can, the governor’s amendatory veto would also create collateral damage throughout the state. TIF districts have been created in a ton of communities, Downstate and in the suburbs. And lots of school districts also fall under the property tax cap.

Sen. Andy Manar, the Senate Democrats’ lead education funding negotiator, claimed last week that the governor had completely gutted “the whole purpose” of SB1 by changing what’s known as the “adequacy calculation.” The bill as passed calculates need by factoring in the actual costs of things schools do. That calculation, Manar said, is the “most profound difference” between the status quo today and what his bill tries to fix.

So, if Manar is right about the governor’s proposed changes, that would be additional, um, evidence that there may be an attempt to sabotage evidence-based funding from within Rauner’s office.

There are other “coincidences” between Rauner’s amendatory veto (and demands being made during negotiations) and Illinois Policy Institute dogma, but the basic premise is that the group wants to kill this bill and Rauner’s proposed changes could conceivably lead to that result if the governor sticks to his guns during negotiations.

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