Jim Dey: S.B. 1: Who's not the boss of whom?

Jim Dey: S.B. 1: Who's not the boss of whom?

Send me S.B. 1, says the governor of Illinois.

Make me, replies Democratic Senate President John Cullerton.

That's where the people of Illinois are these days as the Republican governor — Bruce Rauner — and Democratic legislators — President Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan — face off on a legislative battle that threatens to delay the school year for an undetermined number of K-12 public schools.

Political dignity, of course, has never been much on display in the fetid and festering sewer known as Illinois state government. It's more scarce now that Gov. Rauner called a special legislative session to take up S.B. 1, the school finance formula legislation the General Assembly passed on May 31 but then froze so it wouldn't go to the governor's office for action.

When he didn't get S.B. 1 by noon Monday, Rauner called a special session for Wednesday.

Members of the Democratic-controlled House and Senate showed up in Springfield, gaveled their chamber into action and, just as quickly, gaveled it into adjournment.

"It's a terrible political show," said state Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican about the General Assembly's collective act of thumbing its nose at Rauner.

The show will pick up steam next Monday when Cullerton said Rauner can expect S.B. 1 to be placed on his doorstep, 61 days after it was passed and seven days after Rauner asked for it.

Further debasing the political atmosphere, Cullerton said he's withholding the bill from the governor "because of the mental state of the governor."

For his part, Rauner was unimpressed by the Democrats' continuing legislative gamesmanship, calling it "unconscionable."

"Why wait until Monday to send me the bill? ... It's wrong. Our children deserve so much better than this," Rauner said.

It should be obvious by now that right and wrong has nothing to do with this power struggle. It's all about who gets what.

S.B. 1 is the Democrats' preferred plan on the school funding formula. It establishes an evidence-based plan designed to ensure that poorer K-12 schools that need state aid most get it. It's a legitimate effort to equalize the quality of education K-12 children across the state receive, one supported by Gov. Rauner and legislative Republicans and Democrats.

Where Rauner and the Republican part ways with the Democrats is on the Chicago-friendly funding provisions they say sends an extra $400 million-plus to Chicago.

Under Sen. Barickman's legislative alternative, some or all of that $400 million would be spread across the state's poorer school districts, including Chicago. His version is the one Democrats rejected to pass their plan.

The problem is that the state cannot distribute its school aid money by the Aug. 10 deadline unless there is an evidence-based plan, like that in S.B, 1 or the Barickman alternative, signed into law.

Rauner's intention is to amendatorily veto S.B. 1, essentially implementing the Barickman-funding approach at the expense of the allegedly pro-Chicago approach.

Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in the Senate, so they can override Rauner's amendatory veto there. Speaker Madigan is four votes short of a super-majority in the House, so he needs four Republicans to abandon Rauner.

Here's the rub for non-Chicago Democratic legislators. Most of their school districts will get more money under the Barickman approach than under the Madigan/Cullerton approach. So these Democrats will essentially be voting against their own school districts if they stick with Madigan/Cullerton on the override issue. At the same time, they're terrified by the idea of crossing Democratic leaders.

That's why they're not eager to discuss specifics.

Take local Democratic state Rep. Carol Ammons.

Here's a copy of an email exchange with her office regarding S.B. 1.

"Am working on a story re S.B. 1, which, as you know, Senate Dems have not sent to Gov. Rauner. Do you support holding the legislation as long as possible to pressure the governor to sign the bill? If so, can you elaborate? If he issues an amendatory veto, do you plan to vote to override the bill even if C-U schools would get more money if Rauner's veto is sustained? If so, can you elaborate?"

Rep. Ammons chief of staff Michelle Jett responded.

"Thank you for your inquiry. Here is a statement from Representative Ammons.

"'SB 1 uses an evidence-based model to rectify the inequitable and destructive school funding formula. It has wide support among educators and increases funding for Champaign and Urbana schools. It is disappointing but not surprising to see the governor once again manufacturing a crisis to pit us against each other based on geography and race. A quality education is in the best interest of all students, all families and the entire state, that requires fair and equitable school funding. I strongly encourage the governor to sign the bill in its full form as soon as he receives it.'"

Here's a follow-up inquiry. "Thanks for your response on behalf of Rep. Ammons. ... However, I asked a couple other questions that you did not, I'm sure as the result of an oversight, answer.

"... Does Rep. Ammons support the Senate continuing to withhold the legislation from Rauner, as it has done since May 31. Or would she prefer the Legislature send the bill to Rauner ASAP, as he has requested. Please explain her answer. Assuming Rauner does, as he has promised, amendatorily veto the bill, will she vote to overturn the veto even if it means that Champaign-Urbana schools would get more money if an amendatory veto of S.B. 1 is sustained and less money if an amendatory veto is overturned? Please explain her answer."

Ammons office did not respond.

Speaker Madigan reiterated Wednesday that S.B. 1 "is fair to every school district and child in Illinois." Gov. Rauner thinks otherwise.

"Sign the bill," says Madigan.

"Make me," replies Rauner.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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rsp wrote on July 27, 2017 at 8:07 am

After hearing all the stories about the property tax inequalities and outright fraud taking place in Chicago, I can't help but think they need to gut that whole system and fix it before they ask the rest of the state for school money. When a billionaire can by the mansion next door, take out the toilets and it's ruled uninhabitable to get a huge taxbreak it's a huge problem. When he thinks he should be the next governor? If he cares so much maybe he should start supporting his local schools.