Friday, January 04, 2008

The yo-yo BIMP

Illinois school districts have waited 60 days for the governor’s action on one particular measure because it would allow them to collect about $600 million for increased state aid payments per student and increased reimbursements for special education teachers. Gov. Rod Blagojevich left time to spare, about 14 hours, to act before the bill would have automatically become law without his signature.

It’s not for the taking yet, though. The governor made two changes from the version approved by the legislature in August. Blagojevich’s office issued a press release at 10 a.m. that said he changed some technical details relating to money for special education and for the Illinois State Police. “Schools and the State Police wouldn’t have been able to get the full funds that are designated for them in the budget without these two changes,” says Abby Ottenhoff, the governor’s spokeswoman. She adds that it took so long to announce the changes because of a thorough review process of such a large piece of legislation, which she says would have had unintended consequences with these mistakes. She denies any political motivations to use the measure as leverage for other items on the negotiating table, namely mass transit funding, gaming-for-capital or money for member initiatives.

In order for the school districts to get the money, the Illinois House and Senate must agree on whether to accept or reject the changes. If they disagree, then the entire measure dies. (Technical note: The new year means it’ll take only 30 votes in the Senate and 60 votes in the House to approve the governor’s changes; it’ll take a three-fifths majority in each chamber to override those changes.)

Considering the long-standing sour relationship between the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan, as well as the lack of unison between the speaker and Senate President Emil Jones Jr., school districts have gotten used to not seeing the money that the legislature approved as part of the normal state budget.

The governor’s changes will first be considered in the Senate. Jones’ spokeswoman Cindy Davidsmeyer says the president’s office is reviewing the changes and has no comment.

Either way, it’ll be up to the House to follow suit in order for the bill to take effect. Rep. Gary Hannig, Democratic budget negotiator in his chamber, says it’ll be up to the House Rules Committee, which determines whether bills are heard for debate or kept in purgatory. “If this is simply technical, I don’t think there’ll be a problem. I think we’ll say, ‘OK, we’ll run it through as quick as we can because we understand that this has gone on way too long,’” Hannig says. However, the committee could decide to hold the bill if it believes this governor’s or any governor’s amendatory veto oversteps authority by changing the intent of the original legislation. When that happens, the committee tends not to call the bill, Hannig says.

The first day the legislature could consider the so-called BIMP bill, which “implements” the budget, is January 9, the first day of the new spring schedule.

Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hustonville Republican and school superintendent, says the changes do correct errors made during the drafting process. He says his concern is that even if the House and Senate approve the same version of the measure, the schools still are at risk of not receiving all the money they were promised because of cash flow problems at the end of a budget year. A longstanding practice has been to balance the budget at year’s end by delaying bill payments. Considering warnings about outstanding bills and slowing revenue projections by such economic groups as the legislative Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, Eddy says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that school districts will get all 24 state aid payments expected throughout this school year.

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