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Why McHenry County taxpayers should care about Chicago teacher strike

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 5:31 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – So why should Illinoisans living outside of Chicago care about the Chicago Teachers Union strike, which was suspended Tuesday evening?

After all, our children aren’t among the 350,000 caught in that failing school system.

And our property taxes don’t go toward those schools.

Well, don’t be surprised if Chicago comes hat in hand to Springfield asking for a bailout.

Chicago’s problems become Illinois’ problems.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering Chicago teachers a 16 percent raise over the next three years.

According to the Chicago Teachers Union's own figures, a typical teacher now earns a salary of $71,000. The school district pegs the number a bit higher at $76,000 without benefits.

Regardless of whose number you believe, it’s a hefty salary – more than what most of the taxpayers paying for it earn themselves.

But the promises don’t end there. The mayor also is committing to hiring 500 new teachers.

He is making these promises despite facing a $1 billion shortfall next year.

Emanuel knows he won’t have any cash in the bank. He also knows the “holiday” on paying into teacher pensions expires next year. And he knows the Chicago teacher pension fund is almost broke.

It’s not a particularly clever or complicated political strategy that Emanuel – or the unions – are employing.

It’s called precipitating a crisis.

By agreeing to something it knows it can’t afford, the city will have to seek funding elsewhere.

It could come from a city tax hike.

Or it could come from somewhere else.

Like: Springfield.

I’ve covered the Illinois General Assembly for many years and observed the pattern time and again.

Some urgent “urban need,” whether it be schools, transit or tourism, will come to the forefront and the city will ask the state taxpayers for a bailout.

Chicago takes the same approach with the General Assembly that Wall Street banks took with Congress.

They consider themselves too big to fail.

If a community like Carbondale, Joliet, Champaign or Moline were to make a financial commitment it didn’t have the money to meet, the attitude of lawmakers would be: tough luck.

But Chicago is a different matter.

The city gets bailed out more than a dinghy caught in a hurricane.

Affluent Chicago suburban school districts get comparatively little money from the state.  So, most of the state education aid goes to Chicago and to downstate schools.

Don’t be surprised if Chicago lawmakers work out a deal to squeeze more from the education formulas, at the expense of already cash-strapped downstate districts.

So, why should Illinoisans living outside of Chicago care about the CTU contract?

Because in the end, they may end up paying for it.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org

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