Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) is demanding a state investigation after the Kankakee Times reported on the anticipated district-by-district financial impact of his Senate Bill 1, which promises to change the state's formula for dispensing money to public schools.
The Kankakee Times is owned by Local Government Information Services, which also owns this publication.
The controversial measure, widely supported by Democrats, was approved by the state Senate last week.
Manar convened an "emergency" press conference less than 24 hours after The Times published a story on the anticipated impact SB1 would have on state funding to Kankakee County schools.
“We’re here for a simple reason this morning,” Manar said at a press conference on Friday. “It has come to our attention that information that we first saw yesterday in discussions with the governor’s office and the Senate Republicans that false and erroneous drafts of school funding numbers somehow made their way out of the Rauner Administration office into the hands of a Bruce Rauner campaign group and are being used for political purposes.”
The Kankakee Times' figures are derived from an analysis of Manar's formula changes performed by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). The information has been available on ISBE's website since last summer.
Still, Manar, flanked by several colleagues, insisted that either Rauner, or a member of his administration, "leaked" the information to the Kankakee Times.
The Kankakee Times is not affiliated with the Rauner Administration and Manar did not provide any evidence linking the two entities.
Manar said that the Kankakee County numbers were inaccurate because the bill has recently changed. But he conceded that ISBE hasn't updated its bill analysis, so he couldn't refute them with new data.
"You haven’t seen the numbers on SB 1?" a reporter asked Manar during his press conference.
"Correct," Manar answered.
"Does this highlight the problem of voting on legislation where you don’t have the numbers to combat this fake information?" another reporter asked. "If you say it is fake, can’t you say, ‘Well, hey we’ve run the numbers and this is what it actually is’?"
Manar admitted he and his Senate colleagues voted for the revised bill, even though they didn't yet know how much money school districts would receive as a result of his changes. But he argued this was not out of the ordinary.
"We’ve requested them, it takes time," Manar said. "I don’t think there is anything going on here other than what the normal process is."
Eleni Demertzis, a spokesperson for Rauner, refuted the Manar's claim that the Rauner administration had leaked information to the Kankakee Times.
“The Senate Democrats today jumped the shark,” Demertzis said in a press release. “One cannot leak something that is on a public website. Their false and outrageous accusations have been disproven, and they should apologize for manufacturing blatantly false accusations.”
After the press conference concluded, the Democrats presented a signed letter to the Office of the Executive Inspector General to investigate the alleged improprieties.
“It has been brought to our attention that records and information from Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration and the Illinois State Board of Education were provided to a political group funded by the governor’s campaign. This is disturbing,” the letter, signed by Manar and Sens. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields), Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood), Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park), and Assistant Majority Leaders Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) and Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), read.
Rauner has said he is against the bill and has vowed to veto it if it reaches his desk.
Shortly after the press conference, concluded Manar's mother, Paula Manar, took to Facebook to attack the Kankakee Times, calling it "fake news."