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Ill. Bill Seeks To Hold Line on Budget Raids From Year to Year

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Illinois lawmakers are considering new budgeting policies aimed at countering a frequent complaint of school officials in states with lotteries: that gaming revenues do not really help education because they are matched by cuts in funding from the regular budget.

Pending legislation sponsored by Sen. Aldo A. DeAngelis, the chairman of the Senate revenue committee, would attempt to insure that general-fund appropriations for schools not fall below the previous year's level. The bill was before the Senate last week.

Any budget proposal to lower general funds for schools would have to be explained in writing by the governor. And if lawmakers agreed to appropriate a lesser amount, they, too, would have to explain why.

In Illinois, as in many states with similar games, lottery and riverboat-gambling proceeds are earmarked for education. But lawmakers often use the increase in gaming funds as a way to appropriate fewer general-fund dollars to schools. (See Education Week, March 16, 1994.)

Illinois general-fund spending for education dropped by $37 million in fiscal 1992, for example, a decline that was offset only in part by funds from the lottery.

"This measure is designed to avert any future attempts to raid state school dollars for other purposes,'' Mr. DeAngelis said. "We want to build in some protection for schools.''

Election Issue

The move, spearheaded by Senate Republicans, comes as the school-funding issue has gained increased political attention in the state.

State Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch last month won the Democratic nomination for governor in a come-from-behind bid in which higher school spending was a centerpiece of her campaign.

Under Ms. Netsch's plan, which calls for a reduced reliance on local property taxes to fund schools, 42 percent of all state income-tax funds and 25 percent of sales-tax receipts would be devoted to education. The plan would give school officials a more equitable and dependable source of funding while making appropriations decisions less political, she argues.

Gov. Jim Edgar, the Republican incumbent who is seeking re-election, has not taken a stand on the Senate bill. But he has expressed concerns about Ms. Netsch's proposal, warning that guaranteeing a set amount of funds to the schools could seriously handcuff state decisionmakers during times of fiscal stress.

The state board of education also has not taken a position on the Senate bill. But members of the board have repeatedly complained about the accounting procedures officials have used to make lottery funds, intended as an enhancement to school budgets, a replacement for state tax dollars.

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