Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2013, 3:01 pm

Editorial: Follow bouncing checks

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

The poor folks who run Silvis schools are once again holding bad government paper.

The long saga of the state writing rubber checks for a new junior high school dates back to 2002, when Illinois first awarded the district the funds to build the school, but never sent them. That appeared to change when ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich rode into town carrying a giant cardboard check.

But as we've noted here before, like so many other things in that failed administration, it turned out to be worthless.

School officials and local lawmakers, however, refused to give up and the money eventually would be included as part a massive capital bill backed by the governor and approved by the General Assembly. But then, even after the district got a letter saying that the construction grant was on its way, a lawsuit over how the capital bill was to be paid for threatened to derail that and a host of other projects around the state.

Local leaders continued their fight, however, and today Silvis students attend classes in a shiny new junior high. But the district's financial challenges regarding construction are not yet over, even though the reason for it is new.
The latest incidence of insufficient state funds comes as a result of the most recent black mark on the state's creditworthiness.

A $1.5 million construction grant promised to the Silvis School District has been held up since state officials in January pulled a $500 million capital project bond sale. Silvis, along with schools and transit projects elsewhere in Illinois, now must await the state's timetable for a new sale date.

Illinois officials reportedly declined to issue the bonds because just days before the sale was to take place, Standard & Poor's downgraded Illinois credit rating to an A minus and gave it a dreaded "negative" outlook.

The top credit ratings agency's decision to give the state the worst credit rating in the nation was driven by Illinois' huge public pension crisis and Illinois' leaders inability to address it. But contractors must be paid and work on things like renovation of the old junior high must continue. So Silvis is forced to dip into its dwindling reserves.

We guess Silvis officials are bit luckier than some because they have reserves to raid. We fear other districts and projects around the state may not have been so lucky. But that doesn't mean the delay comes without a price for Silvis schools.

"It's putting us in a real cash flow problem," Superintendent Ray Bergles said. As a result, state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, is pushing for Illinois officials to "man up."

"If the state was never going to live up to its promise of construction dollars, why approve the project and give the people of my district false hope," he said. "The state made an agreement, and needs to come through on that agreement now."

He's right, of course, and we second the call.

But, just as importantly, the incident adds to the huge pile of terrible consequences that continue to mount as Springfield dithers over a more than $94 billion pension hole.

And it shows that the price of their inaction will be borne, not by a Legislature which refuses to act, or a governor unable to successfully lead on this crucial issue, but the taxpayers and schoolchildren they are elected to serve.