Local Dems seek solutions for budget impasse

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gov. Bruce Rauner originally vetoed a bill by state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) that passed through the Senate on Monetary Awards Program, or MAP grants, for college students.

Burke felt confident that after a few revisions with the assistance of state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-17th) that Rauner would be in agreement with the bill as he prepared for his budget address on Feb. 17.

But what happened is Burke’s bill was vetoed for a second time within a month.

“You know, I was hopeful that he would agree this time,” said Kelly, whose district includes Evergreen Park and portions of Oak Lawn. “We will just have to go back to work.”

The governor vetoed the Senate Bill 2043 because he said it would “explode the state’s budget deficit.” Rauner believes that approving MAP grants would put a strain on the cash flow for other agencies in the state that are already having financial difficulties because of the budget stalemate.

Burke said that she, along with other legislators, have sent a letter to the governor to discuss aspects of his “turnaround agenda” and where they can find some middle ground. Rauner would like to see some loosening of union rules that he thinks restricts employers from hiring and prevents companies from settling in Illinois.

“Talking about the budget and funding is an ages-old struggle,” said Burke “So, if we talk about the budget, I think we can come up with some ideas. But the maddening part of the budget talks is that the governor wants to eliminate collective bargaining. That’s why these conversations don’t go any further.”

Many Republicans oppose that the bill was going to restore $397 million in scholarships and more than $324 million for community colleges. GOP leaders said the funding does not exist because there is no budget.

State Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) said that hearings will be held next week in Springfield to deal with the budget issue and at that time discussions will focus on some compromises that can be reached with the governor.

Cunningham mentioned that perhaps some pension limits can be examined, especially the “golden parachutes” offered to some college executives who some institutions want to rid themselves of for a variety of reasons. However, some of these officials are offered large sums of money in an attempt to sever ties.

“I think if we can talk to the governor about some reforms in these areas, we can compromise on other issues like MAP grants,” said Cunningham. “In the realm of higher education, I don’t think we are really that far apart.”

But limiting collective bargaining that the governor has insisted on is not going in the right direction, said Cunningham.

“We can be mired in this standoff for a long time,” said Cunningham if collective bargaining reductions are stressed by the governor. “The right for workers who can negotiate for better wages is a right that should not be taken away. It is at our core beliefs.”

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission estimated that if the Senate bill was not vetoed, 125,000 to 130,000 eligible students would have been approved for MAP grant assistance.

In regards to compromise, Republicans have stated that they would set aside $1.6 billion for grants for community colleges and four-year universities with their proposal. But according to the Republican plan, this would allow Rauner to move funds around during a budget crisis.

Burke is suspicious of that idea because money that is set aside for MAP grants and education in general should not be altered during a budget standoff.

Colleges and universities have not received funding from the state since July 1 because of the budget impasse. Other programs have been funded through court orders and laws.

“Thousands of Illinois students rely on the MAP grant program for access to education and to prepare for a better life,” Burke said. “Higher education is an essential state service that is just as important as elementary and secondary school, and should not be held up by this budget impasse.”