Trust issues doomed Chicago Public Schools pension bailout bill, reporter claims
The reporter's eye view of the apparent disagreement between lawmakers that killed a $215 million bill to bail out Chicago Public Schools' pension fund at the end of 2016 observed the growing acrimony in Springfield over the proposal, a journalist said during the aftermath.
A key takeaway that NPR Illinois reporter Amanda Vinicky said she gleaned from the episode was that there is a lack of trust between political leaders in Springfield, including Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).
"This will set back negotiations," Vinicky told Matt Dietrich during an episode of Reboot Illinois' "Only in Illinois" program on WGN radio.
The legislation fell apart during the recent veto session in Springfield, prior to adjournment for the holiday break.
On Dec. 1, Rauner vetoed legislation that would have provided the funds the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system needs to fill a massive hole in its pension fund. Rauner placed the blame on Cullerton, whom he said reneged on a promised deal for broader reform in exchange for his signature on this legislation.
“President Cullerton suddenly denied that the leaders had agreed that this bill would depend upon first enacting comprehensive pension reform,” Rauner wrote in his veto message.
Cullerton was somewhat vague in his own comments that same day about any agreement on the bill that may have existed.
"The governor indicated that he thought, before he would sign that, that he wanted to have some pension reform," Cullerton said just before the veto became official. "That was the governor's insistence. We passed the bill and put it on his desk. I would urge him to sign it. So if he's not going to sign it because he wants something else, he hasn't told us exactly what that is yet. If it's the same pension reform bill that I've already agreed to, that's what we're talking about. Hopefully, by the time that bill comes to the date that he has to decide, we'll have an agreement. Or if he doesn't and we don't, then I move to override him, if he vetoes it."
The Senate did override Rauner's veto, but the House did not have the votes to follow suit and secure an override.
"The Democrats didn't have the 71 votes that they needed to complete the override," Dietrich said. "So the $215 million CPS needed is gone. That's a lot of money for a district that really, really needed it."
For all the excitement later in the day, Dec. 1 started like any other for reporters in Springfield during the veto session, Vinicky told Dietrich.
"Normally, it's the same old rigmarole, pretty much every day," Vinicky said. "As you noted, reporters hang out, we wait, we chat, for the leaders to come out, they give their reaction. That reaction has really been a whole lot of same old, same old with Speaker Madigan, saying we should follow the framework of not including the quote-unquote Turnaround Agenda items on passage of any budgetary bills and that's how we'll get a budget, and Republicans saying Madigan is being a stick in the mud for reform that will help Illinois long term."
When doors opened for reporters on Dec. 1, they got an unexpected message, Vinicky continued.
"What we got different this time around was word from Senate President Cullerton that, supposedly, in this meeting the governor had -- it really is kind of confusing," she said. "I think part of this may have been a miscommunication issue, but it certainly also is a lot of politics as well."
That's where the legislation's collapse began, according to Vinicky.
"Instead, right after that, in what appeared to be a sort of lashing out at Cullerton's statements and bother with what Republicans saw as a breaking of their agreement, the governor vetoed it," she said. "In short order, the Senate went and overrode that veto, and again the Senate president seems to indicate that there is, in fact, a broad outline for what Rauner had wanted in this pension overhaul for the state and said he'll continue working with the governor."