Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn suggested Tuesday that better-than-expected sales-tax collections could be used to plug a hole in state school funding this year.
The budget that lawmakers and Quinn approved is about $230 million short for schools, and state education officials said Monday that they would likely not be able to make the final aid payment to school districts during the second half of June. The Illinois State Board of Education warned that a similar payment scheduled for the first half of June also will fall short.
Asked about the situation Tuesday, Quinn said he believed the money could be found within the already strapped budget because sales tax revenues are up. From July through December, Illinois brought in $4.312 billion in sales tax revenue — $239.1 million more than the same period the year before and $139.8 million more than initially projected, according to the Department of Revenue.
“I'm not giving up on that,” Quinn said of the school funding shortfall, saying lawmakers knew about the situation when they approved the budget.
The governor added that he'd like to look at closing so-called “tax loopholes” to help the state make school aid payments next year, which could be more than $400 million short under a budget plan Quinn proposed last week.
The governor said he also wants to use money generated from closing loopholes to pay for a $1 billion technology upgrade for classrooms. Quinn spent the morning touring PiperElementary School in Berwyn, where he learned about the school's efforts to bring more technology into the classroom.
Quinn has proposed changing state law that gives oil companies a tax break saying it could bring in $75 million a year. The governor declined to outline other ideas on Tuesday, once again saying he wants to work with lawmakers on the issue.
Republican Rep. Roger Eddy cautioned that many House lawmakers believe any extra income the state receives should go toward paying down a backlog of old bills. But Eddy, a school superintendent from Hutsonville, said he wanted as much money as possible to go to the poorer districts.
Democratic Rep. Will Davis of Homewood, who leads the House’s education funding committee, said he would look at using the sales-tax windfall to give more money to schools.
Meanwhile, Quinn defended a proposal in his new spending plan that would eliminate state funding for two health insurance programs for retired teachers. The move would save the state approximately $92 million, though teachers argue it would unfairly burden retirees who already struggle to get by on pensions that union officials say average about $43,000 a year.
Quinn said he wants to have further discussions on the matter, but that the state should not have an “automatic mandate” to pay for the health insurance coverage. The state picks up about 20 percent of the cost of the program, the rest is primarily financed through contributions from active teachers and premiums from retirees.
“When these laws were passed, legislators passed them without adequate revenue,” Quinn said. “Well, the chickens have come home to roost and we have to deal with the fiscal reality, as I said last week.”