State GOP: Phelps should not support any Chicago schools pension bailout
Observing a virtual hole in the budget, Illinois Republicans recently said it’s time to call in a favor to state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), who this year promised to oppose Chicago’s public school bailout.
The observation followed the Chicago Board of Education approving an amended $5.5 billion operating budget on the slim chance that the state House might override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a $215 million bailout. The state Senate voted to override the veto, but the House fell short.
“Yesterday, Chicago Public Schools passed a budget with a $215 million hole, signaling that they are still counting on the House to override Gov. Rauner’s veto of the Chicago bailout,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said last week. “Brandon Phelps has refused to rule out voting for the bailout. Phelps owes it to the families in his district to guarantee that if an override is called, he will stand with them and vote no.”
Democratic leaders were observed to have gone back on their word regarding their intended passage of pension reform. Such an arrangement could have freed up resources for Chicago schools, said party officials, and now House Democrats will face a major challenge as the legislature convenes to consider the matter.
“They can either stand for taxpayers who are demanding fiscal sanity from Springfield, or vote to recklessly bail out Chicago Public Schools,” GOP stakeholders said.
Phelps said last February that he would remain opposed to “any type of Chicago bailout,” stating that he planned to launch a petition drive aimed at gathering community support for the effort. Phelps, who has served in the state House of Representatives since 2003, said pending legislation would permit the Illinois State Board of Education to take over Chicago Public Schools, transferring financial management to a designated authority. However, he said enacting it would let CPS declare bankruptcy and force southern Illinois to fund the bailout.
“It is frustrating that as soon as Chicago cries for help because they messed up their own finances that Southern Illinois is expected to pick up the pieces and bail them out,” Phelps, who resides in Harrisburg and represents Illinois’ 118th District, said. “The money earned by hard-working residents here in Southern Illinois should stay here and not be sent up to Chicago bureaucrats who are just trying to line their pockets.”
Making his position clear, Phelps said he thinks southern Illinois schools need more funding to improve the quality of education and set students on a path to success without having to support other jurisdictions.
Chicago school officials approved the pending contract by a vote of six out of seven board members, despite the fact that Rauner vetoed the funding legislation this month. Simultaneously, they approved a contract initiated in October with the local teachers union — a move that adds an additional $55 million to the budget, with funding to be allocated from surplus tax-increment financing capital.
The school board considered its budget to be balanced, the Chicago Sun-Times said, despite the fact that approximately $215 million of the pension costs are not vouched for by the state. Rauner’s veto prevented legislation that would have allowed funding.
“I expect the state will … provide the necessary funding for Chicago children,” School Board President Frank Clark said. “If for whatever reason the unthinkable occurs, we are prepared to deal with another amended budget at our next regular board meeting in late January.”
In the end, there were not enough votes in the state House to accomplish an override of the veto, even though the state Senate voted to override.
Phelps, who earned a bachelor's in political science from Eastern Illinois University, previously worked as a union organizing director and belongs to the AFL-CIO.