Rauner signs schools budget to avoid potential closures
Gov. Bruce Rauner spared Illinois schools from a looming state government shutdown Wednesday, signing the state's education budget into law as a broader budget impasse with lawmakers continues to drag on.
Questions about whether schools in Illinois would open on time swirled as the state budget fight became primed to last all summer. Rauner's move eases one of the biggest pressures facing a state set to start a new budget year Wednesday with no overall spending plan in place.
"Education is the most important thing we do as a community," Rauner said. "I would have done more for our schoolchildren, but I am taking action today to ensure our teachers are paid and our schools are open and funded."
Democrats sent Rauner a spending plan in multiple parts that calls for the state to spend more than $3 billion more than it is expected to take in next year.
Most of those parts remain in question as the state is set to lose its authority to spend most of its money starting July 1. The first state payment is set to go to schools Aug. 10. But Rauner's signature on the education budget Wednesday means at least that money will go out even if he remains deadlocked with state lawmakers on other expenses.
The possibility schools might not open on time carried big political risk for Rauner and Democrats, who already have been pointing fingers over who should shoulder the blame in the event of a protracted fight.
Rauner signing into law an education budget approved by Democrats could either signal a willingness to compromise. Or, he could be preparing to fight over the rest of the state's spending with schools out of the way.
"The governor's action today gives me hope for a resolution to the state's budget challenges," state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said in a statement.
Rauner said he signed the education budget because it raises spending on K-12 schools by $244 million, one of his priorities.
Rauner had proposed an increase of $344 million, though his spending plan also called for much larger cuts to social services and programs such as Medicaid health coverage for the poor than the budget bills Democrats sent to his desk.
Rauner wants lawmakers to agree to some of his policy goals, like a property tax freeze, before he'd agree to a state tax hike to help fill Illinois' budget hole.
But top Democrats don't think the governor should use his agenda as a bargaining chip with the state facing a potential shutdown early next month.
So, both sides remain gridlocked as lawmakers prepare to return to the Capitol next week.
House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said Wednesday that the speaker's office is reviewing Rauner's action. He also criticized the reference to Madigan in Rauner's statement as "just more extreme language." Madigan has said the comments from Rauner and his press office haven't helped negotiations.
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, called the governor's signature "a good sign."
"It shows that he may be ready to lean into governing by prioritizing the issues that matter to families across the state," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.