PEORIA — One element of Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget landed with a thud for lawmakers and legislators alike.
Rauner called for shifting the pension burden from state coffers to local school districts, a prospect that could mean up to $7 million in extra spending for a Peoria Public Schools district that is already deficit spending, Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said.
"He is proposing to add cost that we have no way to recover without increasing taxes," she said.
Pekin District 108 Superintendent Bill Link said he hadn't studied the just-released proposal enough to gauge the impact, which would depend on how it was implemented. But he still had worries.
"My concerns are that a cost shift would negate any real benefit we will see from the yet to be determined new revenue flowing from the evidence-based funding model," he said.
State Sen. Dave Koehler was perturbed as well, saying that such a shift doesn't solve the problem.
"We're not going to solve this crisis that we have in state government on the backs of local government," he said. "...What he's suggesting is going to cause either a tremendous local property tax increase in our local schools, or they're going to have to fire teachers.
Previous, Democrat-led suggestions to implement a similar cost shift would have been implemented over a longer time-period, Koehler said, and the Peoria Democrat argued that other savings from relieving the burden on state coffers also would've been passed along to those districts.
State Rep. Ryan Spain said the cost shift is also concerning to him. The Peoria Republican didn't rule out discussing it, but said that "before you start shifting the cost to be picked up by local governments, we need to reform our statewide pension system and our local pension funds."
The property tax impact, particularly with such rates at or near the top of national lists, also worried him.
But he applauded Rauner's calls to pursue statewide pension reforms as well.
"It crowds out every other area of spending priority that taxpayers may have for their government," he said. "If you're passionate about higher education or human services or public safety or road funding and infrastructure, our tremendous spending on pensions makes it very difficult to achieve those objectives."
Koehler was also disappointed that Rauner spent little time discussing his infrastructure plans, and even less on how to pay for them.
"Since it's been almost 10 years, we need another bold infrastructure bill, but we need to stop doing this on a 10-year cycle," he said, calling instead for an increased gas tax dedicated specifically to road repairs.
Spain said the state needs to remain engaged in discussions on a federal infrastructure bill as well, since the one proposed by President Donald Trump is so different from others in the past.
"We need to be having these discussions now, because these things take a long time to come together," he said.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard