Illinois Governor May Cut $42 Million From School Funds

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Springfield, Ill--Local school districts won one battle by a narrow margin and lost another in the Illinois General Assembly last week--heading off the potential loss of more than $600 million in property-tax revenue, but suffering the likely reduction of $42 million in state aid.

School officials succeeded in persuading the state senate to reject a proposal by Gov. James R. Thompson that would have altered the method for calculating property-tax bills, costing school districts an estimated $640 million.

Unprecedented Authority

But a day later, the legislature passed the Emergency Budget Act of 1983, giving the Governor unprecedented authority to reduce appropriations unilaterally for this fiscal year by 2 percent in an effort to overcome a projected revenue shortfall of $200 million.

That action would mean a $42-million cut for elementary and secondary schools and another $20-million cut for higher edu-cation. And political and education leaders were predicting that additional cuts may soon be necessary.

"We may very well in the first of April re-address this subject and make deeper cuts," said Philip J. Rock, the Democratic president of the state senate.

The legislature had earlier sustained Mr. Thompson's line-item veto of $35 million for public schools, bringing the state education budget to $2.1 billion for the current fiscal year.

Donald G. Gill, the state superintendent of education, said schools would be willing to sacrifice to keep the state afloat.

"If we have to bear our proportional share of that burden, then we shouldn't complain. What I would complain about is if it's suggested that education bear more than its share of the burden," Mr. Gill said.

But the Illinois Federation of Teachers (ift), which opposed Mr. Thompson's successful re-election bid last month, accused the governor of "fiscal irresponsibility" and of resorting to "Band-Aid tactics in order to balance his budgets."

Kenneth Drum, ift secretary-treasur-er, complained that Mr.Thompson ''just will not face up to the real and obvious need for reform of the state's tax structure as a means of increasing state revenues. Cuts in federal aid to education, coupled with earlier educational cuts implemented by Thompson, already have school systems suffering."

Officials Relieved

However, officals of school districts were clearly relieved after the defeat of Mr. Thompson's plan to end the state's role in figuring local property-tax bills.

That plan, grafted onto legislation through use of the Governor's power of "amendatory veto," would have forced local districts to lay off thousands of employees, officials said. The Illinois Association of School Administrators had already prepared to challenge the proposal in court.

The Governor labeled his proposal a "tax reform" and denied that it would curtail local revenues.

But Superintendent Gill said there was no assurance of that.

"The impact can just be devastating," he told a senate committee hearing on the proposal.

Chicago's superintendent of schools, Ruth B. Love, told senators, "We simply cannot do the job that you and the public expect us to do with that kind of loss in revenue."

After the setback in the senate, Mr. Thompson conceded defeat in the battle but vowed to continue his attempts at tax reform next year.

Vol. 02, Issue 14

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