UPDATE: 10:37 p.m. 6/23/15
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Democrats’ cross-party dispute in the state Capitol turned internal Tuesday when the majority party in the House failed to approve giving cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools a six-week reprieve on making a $634 million pension contribution.
Even with support from Republicans on a plan school officials said would avert classroom-spending cuts, the measure on delaying the pension payment failed 53-46, falling short of the 71 necessary.
Democrats maneuvered for another vote — which won’t happen until Tuesday, the payment due date — but it further blurred a complicated situation in Springfield, where the focus has been on lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and their disagreement over a state budget just eight days before a new fiscal year begins. Democrats sent him their version this week, but it’s as much as $4 billion short on revenue.
House Speaker Michael Madigan downplayed the pension-proposal defeat while Rauner’s press office laid the blame directly on the speaker, continuing a public relations campaign against the powerful Chicago Democrat by noting that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rauner, and GOP legislative leaders were on board.
“The speaker had Chicago Democrats vote against it,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in a statement. “The only reason the speaker’s Chicago caucus would vote against the mayor’s bill is because Madigan wanted to kill it.”
Madigan, speaking after Tuesday’s session, used the statement to re-emphasize that Rauner is operating “in the extreme,” whether it be on the pension deal or the budget, which he refuses to discuss until he gets approval on business and political changes like reducing worker’s compensation costs and term limits.
“This is not a non-contentious bill; there’s controversy,” Madigan said of the pension-payment relief. “To be issuing extreme press statements in the middle of the consideration of the bill is not helpful. It’s not helpful. It’s not how you do things in the Legislature.”
City officials say the cash-strapped school district, the nation’s third-largest, is in such financial straits it can’t make a required June 30 contribution for 65,000 active and retired employees. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago argued that her measure simply bought more time, allowing the district to collect summertime tax and state-aid receipts while working on an interim or permanent fix.
“We need our leaders to come together so that we have enough time to reach a solution,” interim schools CEO Jesse Ruiz said.
Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs collected 16 GOP votes requested for the measure, saying his party was ready to step up. Not everyone on his side was convinced.
“I don’t know what 40 days gets you,” said Rep. Dwight Kay, a Glen Carbon Republican, “and what I hoped I would have heard today is a strategic plan.”
Some Chicago Democrats did give the thumbs-down. Rep. Frances Ann Hurley said she opposed any “pension holiday” that puts off a payment, even for six weeks. Rep. Mary Flowers, saying she’s willing to work on a long-term solution, said Emanuel has other options and can dip into existing funds.
“You can’t fix it by pointing the finger at Springfield,” she said.
House Democrats took other votes Tuesday they say show their willingness to cooperate with Rauner. They approved a plan to put state business development into a public-private partnership, although it includes a required three-year review and renewal, which Rauner opposes.
And they put up another vote on freezing the amount of property taxes local governments can collect without voter approval. Past votes didn’t include additional issues Rauner’s insisting be included, such as allowing local governments to control costs by dictating what issues are off-limits in union negotiations. But Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, included those provisions in an amendment but recommended opposition. It failed to get any “yes” votes.
“It just shows you what this is about,” Durkin said. “It has nothing to do with substance. This is all about fodder for negative (campaign) mail pieces and that doesn’t help anything.”
This story has been corrected to show the bill needed 71 votes to pass, not 60.
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