State Rep. Keith Sommer said Thursday he’s taking a wait-and-see approach on many of the governor’s budget proposals laid out this week, even as Sommer’s Democratic challenger called them “insincere and disingenuous” and potentially disruptive for Illinois schools.
Sommer, a Morton Republican, said he was eager to speak with superintendents in his district about Rauner’s proposal to shift the cost of educator pensions to the school districts, rather than the state. That shift would be done in 25 percent increments over four years.
It’s an idea that’s been floated before, including by Democrats like House Speaker Mike Madigan. Sommer said superintendents have expressed a willingness to consider it, especially if the shift happened over many years. Four years may not be enough, Sommer said.
“This proposal says four years. I’m not sure that would be very well-received,” he said.
Sommer also said he wonders if the plan would drive up property taxes, as local school districts try to absorb the new pension costs. Rauner said Wednesday he wants to “give schools and local governments the tools they need to more than offset the costs. The tools include increased education funding, the power to dissolve or consolidate units of local government, and more flexibility in contracting, bidding and sharing services.”
“In a time when we’re talking about lessening the impact of property taxes on individuals, will this in fact exacerbate that situation and increase property taxes?” Sommer said.
Democrat Jill Blair is planning to challenge Sommer for the 88th House District seat in the November general election. She said the four-year implementation might be too quick. She also questioned whether the pension cost-shift would really result in any savings for taxpayers.
“It’s a budget trick. It’s not savings,” Blair said. She also said the state should focus on implementing the new school funding formula and “not causing additional instability” for school districts.
Blair also took issue with Rauner referencing a declining number of private sector union jobs in Illinois compared to neighboring states.
“This governor has not been a friend to the unions. For him to invoke union language like ‘our brothers and sisters,’ I found that really disingenuous, since he’s been trying to undercut collective bargaining throughout his time in office,” Blair said.
Blair said she welcomed the governor’s call for flat funding for Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants for Illinois college students, as well as an additional $100 million in capital funds to meet deferred-maintenance needs at universities and community colleges.
“Saying you’re going to allocate money for deferred maintenance and MAP grants—I’ll believe it when I see it,” Blair said. “I don’t want to see (Rauner) dig in his heels and we end up in the same place we were for the first two and a half years of his administration.”
Meanwhile, Sommer declined to endorse Rauner or his primary opponent, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, ahead of the March 20 election. He said he’d rather “stay out of the fray.”
“I think the public’s quite capable of judging from themselves who in their own mind would best be governor, who would follow their beliefs. I’ll leave that up to the individual voter,” he said.
Blair was critical over the state Democratic Party’s handling of a sexual harassment allegation against one of its political consultants, Kevin Quinn, who was dismissed earlier this week. Madigan, the leader of the party, has been criticized for the party’s slow response to the allegations.
“It should’ve been acted on much more quickly,” Blair said.
Blair said Alaina Hampton’s allegations seemed pretty clear-cut, based on text logs shared with the Chicago Tribune. Some have called for Madigan to step down as speaker over the incident; Democratic candidate for governor Chris Kennedy says the speaker should at least temporarily relinquish his role as head of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
“I’m not going to call for his resignation,” Blair said. “But it’s something that should be on the table, I guess.”
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