Home / POLITICS / The politics of education funding in Illinois is truly deranged

The politics of education funding in Illinois is truly deranged

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, questioned the “mental state” of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner during remarks to reporters Wednesday.

I share his concern. I would have said “emotional state” so as to avoid provoking the likes of Diana Knaebe, director of the mental health division of the Illinois Department of Human Services, who quickly released a statement criticizing Cullerton for stigmatizing the mentally ill. But yes.

Rauner is clearly suffering from an advanced case of Madigan Derangement Syndrome — the belief that veteran Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is the cause of all of the state’s economic woes and the primary obstacle to recovery.

Madigan is undeniably powerful and has been in a leadership role for every misguided decision in Springfield over the past three decades that has left Illinois in its financially precarious position.

But to those with MDS, every Democratic leader and virtually every legislator and candidate is nothing but a Madigan lackey — terrified, compliant and venal. And every problem in state government is ultimately the speaker’s fault.

Example: When Rauner’s team kicked off a five-day fundraising drive Thursday, the letter to prospective donors billed it as an attempt “to show Madigan that Illinois does not want the old way” and wailed that “Madigan forced a permanent 32% income tax hike on Illinois families and passed a budget that is $2 billion out of balance.”

Even though Rauner had previously agreed that the new, higher tax rates were necessary. Even though Republicans joined in the effort as both legislative chambers overrode Rauner’s veto. Even though the budget deal contained deeper spending cuts than what Rauner had asked for.

Example: When Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker launched a livestream series Wednesday urging Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1, the education funding overhaul, as soon as Cullerton sends it to his desk, Rauner’s Illinois Republican Party raged that this was “evidence that Pritzker works for Mike Madigan and his Chicago Machine.”

Example: At a news conference Wednesday, Rauner claimed Cullerton had been on his way to a joint appearance with Rauner to announce a deal on proposed changes to the pension law when “he got a phone call from the speaker and then he didn’t show up. The speaker said ‘You’re not going to do an agreement with the governor for pension reform,’ and that died.”

A spokesman for Cullerton not only denied that Madigan ever made such a phone call, he also denied that such a joint appearance had ever been planned.

Example: Even though it’s the Illinois Senate that’s using a parliamentary maneuver to keep the education funding bill in limbo, Rauner on Wednesday repeatedly blamed “Madigan’s majority” for holding up the process.

It was in this context that Cullerton offered his dim view of Rauner’s mental state. “He’s acting out of anger,” in threatening to veto portions of the education bill and in refusing to sit down with Democratic leaders to try to negotiate a compromise, Cullerton surmised.

Indeed Rauner was pointedly angry in his public comments Wednesday. And though too much of his anger was misdirected at Madigan and came off as paranoid and unhinged, he was right to be irked.

The Democrats’ game — passing the controversial education bill but keeping it from the governor to try to build public and legislative support that will inspire him to sign it with no changes — has gone on for eight wheel-spinning weeks.

Maybe it was worth trying for a while, but if Rauner has shown us anything in the last 2 1/2, years it’s that he’s famously, proudly stubborn. And he made it known early in June that he saw certain portions of the bill as unduly generous to Chicago.

I have yet to hear or read a good defense of the Democrats’ continued stalling, which Cullerton has said will end by July 31, no matter what. Every day that goes by brings us closer to a funding crisis that will imperil the coming school year, particularly in low-income school districts, and gives the legislature one less day to address Rauner’s amendatory veto and come to a resolution.

I’ve also yet to hear or read a good excuse from Rauner as to why he won’t reveal his veto plan or sit down for talks with Cullerton to see if a messy, protracted squabble over his override can be avoided.

I like Senate Bill 1. It’s a fairly wrought compromise that addresses decades of funding inequities and, yes, throws a badly needed lifeline to Chicago Public Schools , which educates the most challenging student population in the state.

But even if you don’t like it, you’ve got to agree that this petulant brinkmanship on both sides is a disgrace to the democratic process.

Or maybe that’s just my Illinois Derangement Syndrome kicking in.

ericzorn@gmail.com

Twitter @EricZorn


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