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Legislative Action

Politics without funds no fun


Political maneuvering and lack of money dominated the General Assembly's fall "veto" session. The maneuvering came to naught as gubenatorial vetoes stood or fell largely on partisan lines. Lawmakers chose to go home November 8 without finding money for Chicago teacher pay raises, despite threats that they could be called back into session to deal with a strike.

Before the session started lawmakers took two doses of fiscal castor oil. In its October quarterly report the governor's Bureau of the Budget said first quarter revenues were $83 million below its estimates and acknowledged that economic recovery had been slower than originally forecast. The news was about as bad from the legislature's own fiscal experts at the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission. The commission trimmed its estimate for fiscal year 1992 revenues by $9 million, setting its projection $298 million below the Bureau's. Looking ahead the commission warned ominously: "A prolonged slump in the economy may materialize following a slight rebound."

From a procedural standpoint the veto session produced few surprises. House Democrats, with their three-fifths majority, routinely overrode Edgar's vetoes. Senate Democrats, with their simple majority, were unable to override most vetoes.

Edgar did lose on his attempt to cut the state general funds subsidy to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) by $6.5 million. In July Edgar pared the subsidy paid to provide reduced fares to the elderly, handicapped and students from $28.1 million to $21.6 million. The governor claimed he needed to save money and said double-digit raises given top CTA executives proved the money was not needed. The override sailed through the House, and Senate President Philip J. Rock (D-8, Oak Park) led the upper chamber effort to put the money back in the budget. Rock accused Edgar of choosing an easy target for his cuts: "Pick on the CTA. Nobody likes the CTA." And Rock said the question was a matter of living up to agreements that had been made, both at the time of the 1989 gasoline tax increase and during the July budget deliberations. "If your word is not good around here, we might as well go home." Needing a simple majority to restore the item-reduction veto. Rock put all 31 Democratic votes on the restoration motion.

The biggest political fight of the session was the battle between Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and City Treasurer Miriam Santos. Daley allies had inserted a provision in a pension bill to remove the treasurer's automatic seat on boards that control the investments of Chicago's Laborers' and Municipal Employees' pension systems. Lawmakers sent the measure to Edgar, whereupon Santos began a campaign to convince Edgar to veto the change.

A Daley pledge to reappoint Santos to the pension boards did not satisfy the treasurer. Eventually Edgar vetoed the provision, saying his considerations were independent of the political feud. Edgar reasoned that since the state treasurer sits on state pension boards, the city treasurer should sit on city boards.

The other big battle came over trying to provide money to the Chicago Board of Education to avert a teachers' strike. The board had been unable to find the money to pay the second year's salary increases negotiated a year before. Efforts centered on freeing up some of the $151 million in reserves that the Chicago School Finance Authority holds for the Chicago school board.

The measure considered by lawmakers called for drawing down the funds balances by $17.5 million this school year and by another $17.5 million next year. That money would be enough to provide a 2 percent raise for teachers.

The price that lawmakers sought to extract was reimposition of supervisory powers that were given the School Finance Authority as part of the 1979 bailout but suspended after six consecutive years of balanced budgets. Those powers include the authority to approve or reject the board's financial plan and the authority to approve contracts through the year 2004.

The plan ran into stiff resistance from Chicago minority lawmakers, who argued that the new Chicago Board of Education needed to be given a free hand. Rep. Donne E. Trotter (D-25 , Chicago) called it "David Duke mentality." The measure's House sponsor. Rep. James F. Keane (D-28, Chicago), said lawmakers had to act because the Chicago Board of Education was not doing its job: "They are incapable of making a hard decision." The measure cleared the House with the bare 60 votes needed.

Things were tighter in the Senate, where the bill was the last to be voted on before the Senate adjourned. The usual line about its being the only game in town was employed. "We are confronted with literally a tinderbox situation," Rock claimed.

But black and Hispanic senators were having nothing of it. Assistant Majority Leader Earlean Collins (D-9, Chicago) claimed the finance authority already had the power to release the money. Sen. Emil Jones (D-17, Chicago) called it an attempt to control the school systems. The Senate measure got 25 votes, five less than needed for passage. Those voting for it included 10 Republicans but no minorities.

Non-Chicago school funding generated a lot of heat during the first week of the session. The current (fiscal year 1992) budget is balanced in part by pushing off $175 million in school aid payments from June to July. Downstate school districts complained that pushing the aid from one fiscal year to another created a problem for them. (Chicago schools operate on a different fiscal year.) Lawmakers responded by passing a measure to move the payments back from July to June in fiscal year 1994. Edgar threatened to veto the measure.

Other veto session developments went nowhere. Democrats pushed for override of Edgar's veto of the family leave bill that would have guaranteed workers up to eight weeks of unpaid leave to care for sick family members. Sen. Penny L. Severns (D-52, Decatur) suggested there could be Republican defections. There was only one, and Democrats fell five votes short of overriding the veto. Meeting the same fate was a bill to prohibit state and local governments from doing business with companies that hired replacements for strikers.

The veto session saw Senate Republicans uniting behind a Republican governor. No money meant no new programs. The obligatory crisis came as the final vote before ajoumment. It was business as usual.

December 1991/Illinois Issues/29

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