Written by By Joe Boyle
State lawmakers settled their differences to agree on providing $600 million on Friday for colleges and universities that will allow them to keep their doors open through the summer.
Legislators were feeling the heat from constituents and college and university officials to get something done. Gov. Rauner was expected to sign the bill to provide for the funding. However, State Comptroller Leslie Munger said she will not even wait for the governor’s signature to provide funding to institutions, especially for students from low-income families who applied for Monetary Award Programs, or MAP grants.
The state budget crisis is in its 10th month and local college and university officials were becoming increasingly concerned. Officials at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, St. Xavier University in Chicago and Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills have managed to get through this year by budgeting the funds they have carefully.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) was pleased that funding is being provided for state colleges, even if it is only through the summer. However, he said more should be done to assist human service programs that he said the governor refuses to address.
“Gov. Rauner has said that crisis creates opportunity and leverage, and that government may have to be shut down for a while. Now, he has forced a situation where some universities are on the verge of closing,” said Madigan. “The plan the House passed delivers emergency relief for the state’s colleges, universities and students as we continue pushing for a more comprehensive budget and full fiscal year funding.
“While the governor approved this small portion of funding for higher education, it’s unfortunate he was unwilling to approve any further funding for human services,” added Madigan “If he continues his unwillingness to assist our human service providers, he will be successful in destroying the safety net for those most in need and for critical state services, including services for women who need breast cancer screenings, victims of child abuse and victims of sexual assault.”
The Senate did pass a measure that would provide $450 million in temporary aid for human service programs. The bill was sent to the House, which has adjourned until Tuesday, May 3.
During a Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on April 20 at the Alsip Village Hall, local officials admitted they were frustrated on the length of the budget stalemate and Rauner in general.
Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who also serves as president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, is frustrated with Rauner’s demands and logic surrounding his Turnaround Agenda that calls for restrictions on collective bargaining and unions.
“I see other states that believe that by cutting taxes will create business growth,” said Bennett. “It just isn’t going to work. The economics aren’t there. This governor is working under that theory and it’s just wrong.”
The aid for colleges and universities almost fell apart last Thursday as some Democratic lawmakers opposed the proposal because there was no funding being provided for social service programs. However, these Democrats came on board the next day to assure that funding would continue through the summer for college students.
State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) had been attempting to come up with a bill acceptable to the governor to provide MAP grants funding to college students. State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) had previously come up with two proposals to provide funding for college students only to have the governor veto her bill twice.
Both Cunningham and Burke have spent time visiting local restaurants for morning coffee with constituents to discuss legislation and listen to their concerns. Most of those concerns were about the budget crisis and the MAP grants.
Cunningham joined many of his colleagues in supporting Senate Bill 2059 to send needed money to state universities and colleges.
The legislation would help schools like Chicago State University and Eastern Illinois University in ensuring they can continue to operate, said Cunningham. It would also fund the first semester of MAP grants that many schools, including St. Xavier University and Moraine Valley Community College, floated to students without any guarantee of the money coming through.
“Today, we took a vote to ensure that schools can continue to function and educate our students,” Cunningham said. “This is not enough, but it opens the door to continue to work in a bipartisan manner.”