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It may be an immoral threat, but it’s having a big impact

Monday, Apr 18, 2016

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

“The governor has linked things together,” Senate President John Cullerton said during a speech to the City Club of Chicago back in January. “We don’t have a budget because he’s got his ‘turnaround agenda.’ So I can link things together, too.”

Cullerton was referring to his threat to not pass any funding for K-12 schools until school funding reform is addressed. Despite being repeatedly blasted by the governor and the Senate Republican leader for planning to take schools “hostage” in order to “bail out” Chicago’s school system with his funding reform plan, Cullerton has not publicly backed down from his statement.

And I happen to believe that his direct and deliberate threat, perhaps more than anything else, has pushed Statehouse types to try and reach a conclusion to this long, crazy impasse.

Gov. Bruce Rauner surprised many Democrats last year when he vetoed the entire budget except the K-12 appropriations bill. He made sure that schools would open on time last fall, taking the potential for an extreme crisis off the table. Rauner doesn’t seem all that outwardly concerned about the carnage caused by the months-long government impasse, but he made absolutely sure to keep a K-12 shutdown from happening.

Illinoisans are quite upset about this stalemate. Many are even downright furious. But imagine the outcry if schools hadn’t opened last year. The first-year governor would’ve been roasted over a spit, and he knew it.

Rauner told reporters not long before Cullerton made his threat that last year’s school funding bill was the greatest achievement of his first year in office—even though he told Republican legislators to vote against the K-12 appropriations bill (probably to throw the Democrats off the scent). He has said over and over since Cullerton’s City Club address that passing his school funding bill was his top priority, and he even demanded during his budget address that it be done right away.

Usually in battles like these, you try to prevent your opponent from achieving his main goal. And since the governor has let everyone know what his main goal is, it naturally became a target.

Cullerton faithfully reads newspaper editorials and other commentary and oftentimes lets the criticism get under his skin. So there’s naturally a whole bunch of suspicion out there that he won’t follow through or will eventually relent under extreme duress.

But the chance that Cullerton might not cave is most certainly helping to push this thing toward a conclusion. Rauner has essentially admitted multiple times with deeds and words that not passing the K-12 appropriations bill would lead to an utter catastrophe. And keep in mind that he has moved off the dime just about every time he’s been faced with a calamity that Republican legislators wanted to avoid.

So, while it may be downright wrong to threaten school kids, teachers and parents this way (and it is wrong, to the point of immorality), somebody had to do something to advance the ball.

The General Assembly almost always waits until things hit a crisis point before it resolves a controversial issue. Pension reforms, numerous tax hikes, medical malpractice reform, etc., etc., etc., all had to wait until the need for them was so great that legislators had no choice but to act.

Obviously, there would be no greater crisis than the absence of K-12 funding, and there has never been any greater controversy in this state than this standoff.

Frankly speaking, if threatening to close down the state’s entire public education system doesn’t work, then nothing will. They’ll be arguing over a burned-out hollow shell of a state.

Cullerton has taken a carrot-and-stick approach. The stick is his K-12 threat. The carrot is the encouragement and assistance he’s offered rank-and-file legislators who have been attempting to privately find an end to this insanity. While other caucuses and the governor’s office now have staff helping out and are even talking with each other, Cullerton has been generous with his staff for quite a while now, deploying them to help work out issues.

Speaker Madigan, meanwhile, was not at all encouraging of the rank-and-file talks. But allowing his staff to work with those members and to also talk with the other staffs is a hopeful sign to many.

Another encouraging sign is that Rauner’s chief of staff has participated in some of the rank-and-file meetings, as has Rauner’s chief legislative liaison and his budget director. That’s important because, obviously, nothing is going to get done without the governor’s agreement.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

36 Comments
  1. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 9:38 am:

    ==The General Assembly almost always waits until things hit a crisis point before it resolves a controversial issue.==

    That’s a very telling observation that explains why a Governor would have to negotiate with them the way he has. People may not like it, but it’s the only way this body does business. That has to change.

    The idea that President Cullerton will take the collar for schools not opening is sheer lunacy. For one; he’s far too practical for that. For two, he’s more decent than his counterpart in the House.


  2. - Demoralized - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 9:48 am:

    ==explains why a Governor would have to negotiate with them the way he has==

    I wasn’t aware anyone was engaging in negotiations. 10 months without a budget is a pretty good indicator that they haven’t.


  3. - Joe M - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 9:51 am:

    It is unfortunate that Cullerton didn’t frame it as the need for a comprehensive budget. Arguing that we need a comprehensive budget (that includes higher ed, social programs, etc.), accomplishes the same sentiment, without highlighting a threat of holding K-12 hostage. And many feel that a comprehensive budget is necessary, so its not just a play of words.


  4. - Rod - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 10:09 am:

    What a pity that Senate President Cullerton has decided to play hard ball with the Governor over such a bad bill, SB 231. Really this about attempting to give Senator Manar a real achievement in his 48th district, a district that was carved out to get him elected in 2012. If one looks at the vote totals in Manar’s two runs, it’s clear that his seat is anything but secure. Moreover if one looks at the school districts in the 48th and examines ISBE analysis of prior versions of his school funding reform plan it is fairly obvious that we are looking at classic pork barrel politics here under the cover of equity.

    School funding reform without attacking our state’s massive dependence on property taxes for funding K-12 education as SB 231 does is a waste of the public’s time. What is more amazing is how Republicans in the Senate abstain on Manar’s bills, because their school boards down state are crying for relief.


  5. - Norseman - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 10:28 am:

    Demoralized +1


  6. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 10:44 am:

    Demo, is it not fair to conclude (as been stated here very often) that the Speaker’s version of “negotiating” is in fact, not negotiating. i.e. (as Rich says) “letting the other side negotiate against itself until they’ve reached a position he can negotiate against?

    They’re using the same tactics really. And it’s ugly. And it’s loaded with collateral damage. One person has dictated the game, the rules and the authority to determine each. That’s changed. With luck, the negotiations going on this moment will create a break through.


  7. - Honeybear - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 10:51 am:

    This is “real politik”, “The strong will do what they will and the weak will suffer what they must”. It’s a break down of morality to be sure. Let’s just hope we go back to morality at some point.


  8. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 10:58 am:

    Guy, even by your standards, that’s a home run in attempted obfuscation and self-contradiction.

    –That’s a very telling observation that explains why a Governor would have to negotiate with them the way he has. People may not like it, but it’s the only way this body does business. That has to change.–

    Negotiate? Stop the presses, that’s real news that you’ve uncovered. And you realize the governor’s budget actions are unprecedented. That means they’ve never been done before in nearly 200 years.

    –The idea that President Cullerton will take the collar for schools not opening is sheer lunacy. For one; he’s far too practical for that.–

    Yet you think the governor’s actions in tuning up higher ed, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and many others are reasonable and necessary. Shouldn’t they be double-secret-probation sheer lunacy? Because real people are losing their jobs and being deprived services, right now.

    – For two, he’s more decent than his counterpart in the House.–

    I don’t believe Madigan has said a word about Cullerton’s proposal.

    And how would you rate the decency of the governor’s actions regarding higher ed and social services?

    See, if you have principles, you can call all hostage-taking immoral, regardless of who’s doing it or proposing it.

    If it’s okay for one guy to do it, but not the other guy, then it’s just unprincipled, weak spin.


  9. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:08 am:

    Sling, what I really think is that all of these vital services that are causing suffering are because they can’t go get a court order like so many others have. Compassionate human treatment is discretionary spending in this state. That’s not what the Governor created. That’s what existed long before he ever got there. Doesn’t that strike you as priorities being a bit “mixed up”?


  10. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:10 am:

    And, for the record; I wouldn’t lump Higher Ed with Human services.


  11. - Jimmy H - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:17 am:

    Honeybear +1


  12. - cdog - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:23 am:

    Looks like we have a good round of the game “Grassbowl!” being played.

    Good for Cullerton. I would do the same. If you have been invited to play a game of Grassbowl!, and the stakes are high, you better get your gear on and play to win.


  13. - Demoralized - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:25 am:

    A guy:

    What is fair to conclude is that neither side has negotiated, so I’m not sure what it is you are even arguing.

    And, I’m frankly getting sick and tired of the references to games because this is not a game.


  14. - Demoralized - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:30 am:

    I’ll try this again since my comments seem to frequently get sent off to no mans land.

    A guy:

    I’m not even sure what you are arguing. The only fair thing to argue is that neither is or has been willing to negotiate. And I’m really tired of the references to games. This isn’t a game. None of it.


  15. - walker - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:32 am:

    Cullerton’s threat has impact.

    But the key threats moving the needle also include Higher Ed shutdowns, Lisa’s court action on paying gov employees, and that the Independent Map petition drive will succeed.

    Storms on the horizon. Sad that Human Services cuts weren’t enough. How much pressure is Rauner willing to take?


  16. - Rod - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:35 am:

    word- if we are talking about President Cullerton’s and Senator Manar’s bill SB 231 as the “proposal”, Speaker Madigan has indicated he does not support the State directly providing the CPS pension fund with $205 million a year for the indefinite future as SB 231 does.

    I believe the House Democrat leadership’s proposal on that issue was HB3695 which would have directly funded the normal costs of the Chicago pension fund via City property taxes and overwhelmingly passed the House last session with Republican support. Then was killed in the Senate by President Cullerton.

    If there can be property tax relief for schools by replacing that funding stream with income tax dollars utilizing Lou Lang’s proposal and a constitutional amendment on the flat tax provision it is possible the State’s burden for pensions could be reduced at least in theory. I know Rich has indicated based on prior attempts that revoking the flat tax provision of the Constitution is unlikely.

    Clearly I think the House, both Republicans and Democrats are not big supporters of SB 231. So using it to fully block a K-12 budget seems not even to have the full support of Democrats in the House.


  17. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:45 am:

    –Sling, what I really think is that all of these vital services that are causing suffering are because they can’t go get a court order like so many others have. Compassionate human treatment is discretionary spending in this state. That’s not what the Governor created. That’s what existed long before he ever got there. Doesn’t that strike you as priorities being a bit “mixed up”?–

    I’m not sure what “all these vital services that are causing suffering” means, but Guy, you can really spin yourself dizzy.

    In your first post, you posited the governor is justified in taking hostages to get the GA to “negotiate.”

    In your next post, you claim the governor’s vetoes of funding for social services did not “create” a hostage situation, because they should all be part of a continuing approp., anyway. Presumably, to keep a governor like, say, Rauner, from using his veto to take them hostage.

    That makes sense to you?

    And are you really contending that hundreds of current social service contracts should be part of a continuing appropriation? How would that work?

    What about all the other state vendors whose contracts aren’t being honored? Should they all be part of a continuing appropriation?

    And, once again, is hostage-taking a legitimate tactic, whether it’s Rauner doing it or Cullerton threatening it? I say no, to both, on principle.


  18. - NorsemanR - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:53 am:

    === … all of these vital services that are causing suffering are because they can’t go get a court order like so many others have. Compassionate human treatment is discretionary spending in this state. That’s not what the Governor created. That’s what existed long before he ever got there. Doesn’t that strike you as priorities being a bit “mixed up”? ===

    What strikes me as mixed up is your logic. The court orders I’ve seen have all been linked to a federal legal issue. Pay for workers, fed labor law. Medicaid for a lot of services, etc. There has been adjudication as to whether these programs are non-discretionary or otherwise pursuant to state law.


  19. - Jimmy H - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 12:08 pm:

    - walker - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 11:32 am:

    Walker, exactly my thoughts.

    Almost every evening on the local news there’s been a story on a local K-12 school and how they will have to shutdown if there’s no funding.

    As an aside- Michael Madigan had a LTE in the Journal Register that ran on primary day. It was concerning the plight of Social Services,cosigned by 17 social services orgs. Madigan does care about Social Services, it is a priority for him.


  20. - Honeybear - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 12:11 pm:

    A Guy- Compassionate human treatment is discretionary spending in this state.

    What do you mean?


  21. - illini - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 12:13 pm:

    wordslinger - stated better than I could have. There are no free passes on this site.


  22. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 12:15 pm:

    Fellas, the reinterpreting and redefining of what I’m saying might satisfy you. But it’s not honest. Our priorities in this state are royally messed up. They have been for a long time. It’s not as if any of these things are unimportant, but some are life and death.

    Demo, referring to it as a game, it was my intention to compare it to a strategy (ala poker), not an athletic competition. But, having said that, I could not agree with you more. None of this is a game (or play). I certainly don’t mean for it to come across that way. It’s terrible, even close to torture in some cases. Most or all of the blame seems to go mostly one way here, though there are exceptions. We have to get beyond it. I’m hoping, praying, and doing what I can to help.


  23. - Norseman - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 12:24 pm:

    === Our priorities in this state are royally messed up. ===

    Whether they’re messed or not is certainly in the eye of the beholder. In our system of government, priorities are set by our legislators and governor. I don’t agree with all the priorities, but other than advocating a change in the policy and policy-makers I have to live with them. My big ask is that there be a performance assessment to ensure the programs that are designed to meet priorities be effective and efficient.


  24. - Honeybear - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 12:26 pm:

    I repeat

    A Guy- Compassionate human treatment is discretionary spending in this state.

    What do you mean?


  25. - illini - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:01 pm:

    As a wise commenter has said many times - “Do not Feed The Trolls.” But it is hard not to counter some of the inane comments and spurious reasoning sometimes expressed.


  26. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:06 pm:

    ===Honeybear - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 12:26 pm:

    I repeat

    A Guy- Compassionate human treatment is discretionary spending in this state.

    What do you mean?===

    Sorry Ms. Bear. Wasn’t ignoring you, but a guy’s gotta eat!

    What I mean is; that social services largely fall in the ever decreasing category of discretionary spending. It’s among the few categories that spending can be legislatively affected. I’m not arguing that it’s right. I am arguing that it is.


  27. - Norseman - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:13 pm:

    === What I mean is; that social services largely fall in the ever decreasing category of discretionary spending. ===

    Based on what information? Hopefully, not on your flawed proposition that if the court hasn’t ordered payment then it’s discretionary.


  28. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:23 pm:

    Norse, don’t be a goof. Look at the budget and what is fixed, required spending vs. what is discretionary. The answer is there. You think it’s just a coincidence that the areas being decimated and discussed are these? The majority of our budget (when we have one) is mandatory spending.


  29. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:28 pm:

    –What I mean is; that social services largely fall in the ever decreasing category of discretionary spending.–

    They have state contracts that are not being honored due to the governor’s vetoes.

    Same with Illinois businesses and utilities that are not being paid for goods and services already delivered due to the vetoes.

    The governor has made no attempt to rectify the situation.

    In the Illinois GOP, honoring contracts and paying your everyday bills is now “discretionary.” That’s “conservative.”

    Great spin, Guy.


  30. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:30 pm:

    ===Compassionate human treatment is discretionary spending in this state. That’s not what the Governor created. That’s what existed long before he ever got there.===

    A Guy is absolutely right about this. Discretionary spending is a term of art. He wasn’t advocating it. He was decrying it.


  31. - Honeybear - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:32 pm:

    Sorry, that sounded snarky. I was actually trying not jump down your throat until I asked for clarification. I’m trying to learn the discipline of not being reactionary. Thank you for your response. Of course now I don’t really have time to respond till later.


  32. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:39 pm:

    No worries Ms. Bear. What we don’t agree upon, I still admire your passion for.

    Thanks Rich for the confirmation. It has always bothered me that this spending was so important to legislators (when they wanted it to be), but it was never treated anything close to some of the other issues people hold near and dear.


  33. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:46 pm:

    –Discretionary spending is a term of art.–

    I don’t know what that means. If I recall, despite vetoes, the administration has asked everyone who’s not being paid to keep providing goods and services until the sunny manana to come.

    If the governor would like to cancel state contracts for social service providers, utilities or state businesses that are not being paid, he should cowboy up and propose doing so in a methodical, rational way.

    This Darwinesque “squeeze the beast” is flat-out wrong.


  34. - Norseman - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 2:52 pm:

    A guy, you are the perfect Raunerbot, spouting insults without providing any real information. You say look at the budget and the answer is there as to what is discretionary and non-discretionary. Have you ever looked at an approp bill?

    Again, your tortured logic is that those items being decimated are naturally discretionary programs. Then you say that doesn’t include higher ed.

    You do understand the difference between federal law and state law? Those items funded through court orders have a federal hook on them. That doesn’t mean the programs held hostage are not mandated by State law. You may desire that the state only pay for programs mandated by the feds, that’s an entirely different issue from what you are saying in your confused posts. There a lot of State laws that need to be changed to effectuate your desires.

    Now it’s time to take off your Rosey Rauner glasses and pay attention.


  35. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 3:09 pm:

    ==Have you ever looked at an approp bill?===
    Yes.
    ==Again, your tortured logic is that those items being decimated are naturally discretionary programs. Then you say that doesn’t include higher ed.===

    No I didn’t.

    ==You do understand the difference between federal law and state law?===

    I do.

    === Now it’s time to take off your Rosey Rauner glasses and pay attention.===

    I’ll do my best. Just for you. Not sure what you think I think is rosey here, but you think it. So, it must be true.


  36. - A guy - Monday, Apr 18, 16 @ 3:13 pm:

    To clear up your confusion on Social Services and Higher Ed. The difference you may have perceived is in my suggesting that I don’t lump them together. I am a long time participant and donor to Catholic Charities. The issues we face on a day to day basis these days is a little more urgent than anything with regard to Higher Ed. They are far different kinds of suffering. One is quite literal.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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