Editorials

Rauner's budget plan makes property taxpayers cringe

Gov. Bruce Rauner
Gov. Bruce Rauner AP

Gov. Bruce Rauner is asking Illinois to do as he says, not practice what candidate Rauner preaches.

He delivered a budget address Wednesday that would do things very differently than what he advocates as the Illinois ideal. The biggest concern for most of Illinois is what would happen to property taxes.

Rauner is right that school districts should be responsible for their own pension costs. The current system separates responsibility for paying a teacher's salary from paying most of a teacher's pension costs.

That leads to inflated final salaries paid by districts encouraging teachers to retire in their 50s so they can bring in younger teachers and pay them less. Then the state pays the retired teacher an extra decade based on that higher salary plus another 4.4 percent bump if the teacher has two years of unused sick leave.

That separation of decision responsibility from obligation responsibility is why the state is unable and unwilling to properly fund the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois. TRS currently has $73.4 billion in unfunded pension liability — the largest chunk of the state's pension crisis.

So now that the pension monster is eating $1 of every $4 the state gets, Rauner wants four years to shift the burden onto the school districts. Where will schools get the money? Where do schools get most of their money?

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says he will make a balanced budget proposal Feb. 14 and that Illinois residents can expect spending cuts in his proposal.

That's right: Your property taxes. That's something candidate Rauner said he wants capped.

Remember all that money schools are supposed to get now that the state funding formula is fixed? Watch as it slides into pension costs rather than strengthening classroom instruction to improve the scores on whatever test the kids take next year.

The problem is that the state would escape its burden and still tell districts how to shoulder the burden. You first need to reform the pension system so defined benefits are not the only option for district leaders and their educators. You have to give them the ability to make their own choices and control their own costs, not just pick up the mess the state helped them make.

Rauner's preaching and praying for forgiveness then went on to the state income tax hike.

He campaigns on rolling it back, but then his $38 billion budget is built on using that money, something his primary opponent was quick to point out. If he were serious, he would present a state budget based on getting 3.75 percent of your income versus the 4.95 percent state lawmakers took over Rauner's veto.

His budget address only proposed cutting the state income tax rate one-quarter of a percentage point, and then only if state lawmakers and then the courts go along with cutting state worker pensions. The courts have been pretty clear about the Illinois Constitution saying you cannot change a pension promise after it is made.

Medicaid changes, cuts to state pensions and health care, changes to the brand-new school funding formula. Pot shots from the right and cannons from the left.

Suffice it to say, Rauner may be the only one in Illinois happy with his budget proposal. Based on his budget track record with state legislators, it could be another l-o-n-g summer in Illinois.

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