Despite Edgar's Careful Planning and Extensive Lobbying for School Funding Reform Legislative Leaders Still Dodging Income, Property Tax Swap
Doubek, Madeleine, Thompson, Don, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Madeleine Doubek and Don Thompson Daily Herald Staff Writers
The song was school funding and Gov. Jim Edgar and legislative leaders twirled a two-step Wednesday.
While Edgar and his aides danced toward a school funding shift, his party's legislative leaders skirted sideways.
Top Edgar aides and a group of legislative negotiators suggested they had the parameters to negotiate a school funding and accountability overhaul. But GOP leaders balked at the proposed 25 percent income tax hike in the plan.
"If we would do the governor's plan," said GOP Senate President James "Pate" Philip of Wood Dale, "it would be the largest single increase in taxes in the history of the state of Illinois. I don't think the majority of my caucus is for that."
Many suburban residents, who tend to have higher incomes, likely would see a net tax increase under the governor's plan.
Edgar's aides purposefully worked with a bipartisan legislative group on a plan to boost school funding and provide residential property tax relief for several weeks in an attempt to try to develop a consensus of support. But Philip and other key legislators Wednesday danced away from the plan's key premises and repeatedly labeled it "Edgar's plan."
"I think what you see is the governor's proposal that's in front of us now," said House GOP Leader Lee A. Daniels of Elmhurst. "Obviously there's a $300 million-plus hole in the plan which none of us have any idea yet how you're going to fill. And there isn't any agreement as to a revenue structure."
Still, Philip, Daniels and the legislature's Democratic leaders will meet today with Edgar, his aides and the eight-member working group to begin further negotiations from the framework they have detailed.
"We need to do the right thing and enact these significant reforms in funding and accountability," Edgar said in a statement. "Fairness and the future demand that we act now."
Also proposed are several attempts at improving schools' accountability as well as a bond program to help school districts fund construction and technology improvements. The accountability proposals suggest ways to tighten requirements for teachers' certification as well as other measures intended to make schools, teachers and students more accountable.
"I think most of my members like the reform part," Philip said. "The taxing part is the most difficult thing."
The funding plan embraced by Edgar calls for a .75 percent increase in individual income taxes to generate $1.45 billion. Another $350 million would be needed from other taxes or spending cuts to raise a total of $1.8 billion. Edgar aides said $1.2 billion of that total would go toward residential property tax relief and the remaining $600 million would be used to boost or maintain per-pupil spending at school districts around the state.
Illinois' businesses would not see an income tax hike or property tax cut. They are excluded from the plan. Edgar's education expert, Al Grosboll, said if corporations were involved, they would have gained several hundred million dollars in relief because they pay relatively little in income taxes but more than half the state's property taxes.
While legislative leaders danced away from the plan, at least one suburban legislator who helped develop it suggested it could be adopted this spring.
"I think it can sell. There are some folks that are a little uneasy," said state Sen. Daniel Cronin, an Elmhurst Republican who has been working on school funding proposals. "I'm sort of excited about it, I think that it offers a heck of a lot of potential for some meaningful reform in the way we fund our schools, property tax relief, and tuition tax credits are on the table. …