We all may have to pay for Chicago teachers pact
By Scott Reeder September 19, 2012 10:42PM
Updated: October 21, 2012 2:58PM
So why should Illinoisans living outside Chicago care about the Chicago Teachers Union strike that ended this week?
After all, our children aren’t among the roughly 350,000 caught in that failing school system.
And our property tax payments don’t go toward those schools.
Well, don’t be surprised if Chicago comes hat in hand to Springfield asking for a bailout.
Chicago’s problems usually become Illinois’ problems.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering Chicago Public Schools teachers a 17 percent raise over the next four years. The teachers union’s figures show that a typical teacher now earns a salary of $71,000. The school system pegs that average a bit higher at $76,000 without benefits.
Regardless of whose number you believe, it’s a hefty salary — more than what most of the taxpayers paying for it earn themselves.
But the promises don’t end there. The mayor also is committing to hiring nearly 500 new teachers to cover the longer school day and allow teachers to not have to work longer each day.
Emanuel is making these promises despite facing about a $1 billion budget shortfall next year.
He knows he won’t have any cash in the bank.
He also knows the “holiday” on paying into teacher pensions expires next year and that the Chicago teachers’ pension fund is almost broke.
It’s not a particularly clever or complicated political strategy that Emanuel, or the union, is employing. It’s called precipitating a crisis.
By agreeing to something they know the school system cannot afford, the mayor and his school board will have to seek funding elsewhere. It could come from a city tax increase.
Or it could come from somewhere else. Like Springfield.
I’ve covered the Illinois General Assembly for many years and observed the pattern time and again.
Some urgent “urban need” — whether it be schools, mass transit or tourism — will come to the forefront, and the city will ask the state taxpayers for a bailout.
Chicago leaders take the same approach with the General Assembly that Wall Street banks took with Congress. They consider themselves too big to fail.
If a community such as Joliet, Carbondale, Champaign or Moline were to make a huge financial commitment it didn’t have the money to meet, the attitude of lawmakers would be: tough luck.
But Chicago is a different matter. The city gets bailed out more than a dinghy caught in a hurricane.
Affluent suburban school districts in the Chicago area get comparatively little money from the state. So, most of the state education aid goes to Chicago and downstate schools.
Don’t be surprised if Chicago lawmakers work out a deal to squeeze more from the education funding formulas to afford the new teachers contract — at the expense of already cash-strapped downstate districts.
So, why should Illinoisans who reside outside of Chicago care about the new CTU contract?
Because in the end, they may end up paying for it.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that supports limited government.