Thursday, June 30, 2011

EXTRA: Ticking off the schools. And quite possibly, rural Illinois as well

Gov. Pat Quinn gave his approval to a $32.9 billion budget for the state fiscal year that begins Friday, and used his amendatory veto power to slash some spending that the General Assembly had approved.
QUINN: Damned, no matter what he does

My guess is that he went after pet programs of particular legislators, who in their own budgetary negotiations didn’t even come close to providing the kind of funding that Quinn wanted for certain programs.

WHICH MAKES THIS particular budget approval nothing more than partisan politics and campaign tactics run amok. The fact that he made everyone wait until Thursday night (11:59 p.m. was the deadline) to find out exactly what he intended to do just rubs it into the wound all the more.

Yet there was one part of the budget, as it now stands, that caught my attention. It was the fact that Quinn cut the amount of money the state provides to school districts specifically for transportation costs.

We’re not talking about the general state aid that pays for the actual operation of schools and education programs. He cut by $89 million the amount of money the state will give to suburban and rural Illinois school districts to pay for providing all those school buses.

Quinn’s budget director, David Vaught, told the Chicago Sun-Times that such a cut is justified because such transportation costs should be paid locally. As he told The Bright One – “School transportation by its nature is local function for parents and local school districts. They can get their kids to school.”

WHICH MAKES ME wonder how long until someone compares that statement to the never-actually-said-by Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake.”

I have heard enough school officials in assorted districts complain that the state is already terrible when it comes to sending them their funds for transportation – such funds these days routinely show up nearly a year late.

Meaning that the money school districts will actually receive for transportation during the 2011-12 school year is the money they were promised for 2010-11.

That means this cut’s impact may not be felt for a year. But it will be felt.

PARTICULARLY IN THOSE rural school districts where it is not uncommon for a physically-large geographic area to be covered, and where school officials already struggle to pay to maintain buses just to get their kids to school. And in the GOP-leaning suburbs, it will be a complaint that the state already expects local officials to do too much to educate their kids – rather than living up to its vaguely-stated state Constitutional obligation.

I can already hear in my mind the rancid rhetoric Quinn will get for somehow not sympathizing with the parts of Illinois that are not part of Chicago metro, or for merely looking out for the city proper. It may be a nonsense issue, but someone will try to make it against him.

But at least we have a budget in place, and there is no risk that state government will be forced to shut down in coming weeks.

As one whose own experience covering the Illinois Statehouse Scene includes having to deal with early Julys where the lack of a budget meant that no money could be spent, government shutdowns are a complete pain in the tush.


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