Illinois Senate president calls for school funding reform

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Frustration still reigns in a state that's gone nearly seven months without a budget. (WLS)

After a false start last week, there is a glimmer of hope to resolve Illinois' worst-in-the-nation $110 billion pension debt.

A deal could be struck between Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and state Democrats, but it comes with a call by Senate President John Cullerton for school funding reform.

Frustration still reigns in a state that's gone nearly seven months without a budget.

"Well, I'm very glad the Governor has changed his mind on a very aggressive, unconstitutional pension plan," said Cullerton, downplayed his public disagreement with Rauner on pension reform.

The Republican governor announced last week he and Democrat Cullerton agreed to support a new proposal, only to have Cullerton declare minutes later there had been no such agreement.

On Monday, Cullerton did not rule out a possible deal with different terms.

"I talked to the Governor today and we're going to make sure we're on the same page," Cullerton said.

"We need fundamental, dramatic change in the state of Illinois and we're going to get that. Our people deserve it," Rauner said.

But as hope for pension reform rose, House Democrats noted the state's continued lack of a budget and held Rauner responsible.

"Since he's been in office the state of the state for poor people and people that need help is worse off," said state Rep. LaShawn K. Ford, D-Chicago.

Earlier on Monday at Chicago's City Club luncheon, Cullerton challenged the governor to add school funding reform -- including more money for Chicago Public Schools--to Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda":

"Let me be clear. Our broken school funding formula is the defining crisis of our time," Cullerton said.

Rauner, who continues to insist on pro-business, anti-union reforms, said again Monday he will not back down from those reform demands. He blamed uncooperative Democrats for damage done to social services agencies and declared his own persistence and patience.

"Change takes time. Nothing important, nothing transformative comes quickly or easily," Rauner said.

The governor is scheduled to deliver his State of the State address at noon Wednesday in Springfield.

The House and Senate will meet separately after the speech but no one expects either chamber to get much done before the March 15 Illinois primary election.
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