Columns | Northwest Herald

Rich Miller: Wind-down compromise on Invest in Kids program seemed prudent

I don’t know whether or not the legislative Democratic leadership would’ve allowed a vote, but it is puzzling to me that the people behind the extension of the state’s Invest in Kids Act program didn’t at least try to run a bill that would’ve wound the program down over a period of years.

Continuing to allow income tax credits for donations to private school scholarship funds for kids who were already enrolled in the program would’ve protected those individual children from being kicked out of the schools over an inability to pay. Legislation like that would’ve given both sides a veto session “win,” and kept the program on life support so that a future General Assembly might decide to restart it down the road.

More than a few people were pushing behind the scenes for a wind-down bill. The bill to extend the program for five more years didn’t have enough votes to pass in the spring, when it needed 60 in the House and 30 in the Senate. Those constitutional requirements jumped to 71 and 36, respectively, after May 31st. A wind-down compromise seemed prudent.

And yet, the people who were so forcefully demanding that the General Assembly extend the program for another five years made no overt moves to protect scholarships for the 9,600 existing scholarship recipients, hundreds of whom were bussed to Springfield to shout slogans in the Statehouse halls.

Too many proponents of keeping the program alive seemed more interested in battling with teachers’ unions than finding a way to the bargaining table. But those teachers’ unions, along with other labor groups, are now being quietly courted by Republicans because the party has lost so many wealthy benefactors like Bruce Rauner and Ken Griffin, who both exiled themselves to southern Florida. Other longtime top Republican contributors have either passed away or retired and lost interest in Illinois politics. They need money to compete, plain and simple.

A compromise (HB4194) floated by a small handful of House Democrats on the first day of a two-week veto session attracted a total of just four Democratic sponsors. The bill, which specifically required more scholarships to poor children, mainly served to highlight the problems with the existing statute, particularly that not nearly enough poor and minority kids have been receiving the scholarships as proponents had insinuated. The bill never moved an inch.

The House’s new bill also allowed Senate Democrats to point the finger away from themselves, telling everyone that they wanted to wait and see what happened to the bill in the other chamber before committing publicly to a vote either way in the Senate.

House Republican Leader Tony McCombie claimed at one point that the bill had, tops, 57 “Yes” votes in her chamber. Remember, it needed 71. McCombie was counting all 40 of her members, but some Republicans, including the far-right Illinois Freedom Caucus, opposed the belated compromise. And others who are seeking teachers’ union contributions quietly opposed the legislation.

Leader McCombie’s estimate of 17 House Democratic votes may have been short. Others said the House Democratic total was significantly higher. But House Speaker Chris Welch has an unwritten rule that bills which don’t have enough support from his own caucus members to pass on the floor won’t get called. In this case, that number would’ve been 71 out of 78 House Democrats, which was an impossibly large number of votes, considering the amount of liberal and progressive “No” votes in his caucus to begin with and the significant pressure by the teachers’ unions and their allies. Beating this bill was the unions’ only veto session goal, and they went all-out to make sure everyone knew they were laser-focused on the topic.

So, we ended up with several session days of very loud, media-friendly protests by proponents and very little actual legislative progress. It was good (and likely quite expensive) theater, but that’s about it.

“Loss-chasing” is when gamblers who are falling behind increase their bets in order to catch up, only to almost always fall even further behind. The proponents clearly had money to burn on a lost cause, and then they doubled-down during veto session on a compromise that wasn’t going to be called for a vote and exhibited no will to offer up a phase-out.

It almost looked like some of the people pushing the extension were more interested in maintaining lucrative income tax credits in perpetuity and punching at unions than making sure that at least some kids had assistance.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

Rich Miller

Rich Miller

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and