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Vallas: Rauner plan would cost public schools $4 billion

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 11:32 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Republican Bruce Rauner’s proposal to dump a temporary state income tax increase would cost public schools $4 billion a year and lead to 28,000 teacher layoffs, the rival campaign for Illinois governor said Wednesday.

Paul Vallas, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate, presented a by-school-district breakdown of cuts that he said would be required under Rauner’s “Jobs and Growth” agenda, which calls for rolling back Quinn’s temporary, 67 percent tax hike in January from 5 percent to its pre-2011 level of 3 percent – not 3.75 percent, as the law currently reads.

The reduction would leave school districts scrambling to raise local taxes, cut educational services and extracurricular activities, and increase class sizes, Vallas contended.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in an email that the Winnetka businessman would make education a top priority. He said despite a tax increase, Quinn cut education spending by $500 million during his five years in office, forcing teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.

“And ours are real numbers, not like the ones Vallas made up, which he can’t source,” Schrimpf said. “His is from a fantasyland, designed to set up a TV ad.”

Since the start of the economic crisis in 2009, support for elementary and secondary education has decreased about $700 million overall, according to the Illinois State Board of Education, however spending has increased over the past two years.

Vallas, who served as schools chief in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, conducted the analysis with Quinn campaign policy staff members. He said returning to a 3 percent tax rate – which Rauner says he would accomplish over four years – would leave an $8 billion hole in the budget. That’s about half of the annual budgetary amount considered discretionary spending that could be cut – money for seniors in the Department on Aging, veterans, and child protective services, Vallas said.

Because education makes up half of that discretionary funding, Vallas assumed for his analysis that it would mean a 50 percent cut to schools “unless they stop funding pensions, unless they stop paying bills, unless they totally decimate some of the other discretionary categories.”

“It’s a plan that either reflects a basic misunderstanding on how state government works and the purpose of the general [discretionary] funds, or maybe it reflects a general attitude that you can dramatically cut across the board and address the state’s long-term needs that way,” Vallas told reporters at a teachers’ union professional-development facility.

“The bottom line is, it doesn’t work, it’s going to have a devastating impact, and I think voters need to know what the impact’s going to be.”

The impact includes dismissing 27,700 teachers, a number Vallas contended was conservative because it assumes that school districts would make up at least half of the $4 billion reduction, primarily through increased local property taxes – which Rauner promises to seek legislative approval to freeze.

Vallas said Rauner’s pledge was an attempt to “appeal to everybody: ‘I’m going to cut your taxes, but I’m going to freeze your property taxes. Then I’m going to increase funding for education.’”

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