Why Democrats May Avoid Sending Bruce Rauner Another School Funding Bill

One reason the Illinois budget impasse has gone on so long is that elementary and high schools have received their full share of state funding for the current academic year.

The bill that contained funding for elementary and secondary education was the only budget bill among 20 last year that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law. He vetoed everything else sent to him by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly last June. That was a shrewd move, as it meant that public schools statewide could open on time and operate throughout the school year without the disruptions imposed on other entities when their funding ended as of July 1.

With schools functioning and, thanks to a court order, state government employees paid, Illinois government appeared to most Illinoisans to operate smoothly even without a state budget. Thus, Rauner could work his "no reforms, no budget negotiation" strategy without the threat of massive public outcry that would have come had the school year been disrupted.

Pennsylvania this week became an example of how things might have gone for Illinois had Rauner not signed the school appropriation bill. Illinois and Pennsylvania had been the only states to not enact budgets for FY 2016, which enters its final quarter on April 1. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf wanted to raise taxes to close a $2 billion budget gap while the Republican-controlled Legislature was dead set against any tax increase.

But Wolf had vetoed the entire Republican-approved budget, and school districts in Pennsylvania were forced to borrow heavily just to keep their doors open. This week school districts said they could not keep going much longer without state funding. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

On Wednesday morning, a group of administrators convened by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials gathered in the Capitol rotunda to ask for the completion of the budget. David Wytiaz, superintendent of the Aliquippa School District in Beaver County, said that as of May 1, the district would have less than $1,000 in its general fund checking account and be unable to meet payroll, obligations to vendors and a $1.1 million bond payment due June 1.

"As you can see, the present status is extremely fragile," he said. "We can no longer accept this stalemate to continue."

Had Rauner not funded Illinois schools, it's likely a similar scenario would have played out here and forced an end to the budget impasse.

With the 2015-2016 academic year winding down and FY 2017 approaching, the question is whether Rauner will receive a school funding bill for next year from Democrats in the General Assembly.

That's our topic on this week's "Only in Illinois."

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