Rauner claims Madigan balks on university funding bill

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gov. Bruce Rauner accused House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) on Monday of manipulating the presidents of colleges and universities in Illinois to refrain from backing any measures proposed by the governor or Republicans before the March 15 primary.

Rauner’s latest salvo came after the governor vetoed two variations of bills to provide funding for college students through the Monetary Awards Programs, or MAP grants, during the past month. State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) introduced the first version of the bill that passed through the Senate.

The governor said he supports a bill that is sponsored by state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-5th) to provide $160 million in emergency funding to universities. Rauner had invited several university presidents to stand beside him at a press conference.

According to Rauner, the presidents rejected the idea of attending a press conference because they did not want to anger Madigan. Rauner believes Madigan wants the budget impasse to continue to counter the governor.

“We have a bipartisan bill to fund our universities right now that I can support,” said Rauner. “Madigan won’t call the bill.”

Dunkin introduced HB 6409 last week. The state representative, who faces a Democratic primary challenge from Juliana Stratton, said the bill would provide funding to assist Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University. Rauner said Dunkin’s Bill would provide funding for these schools without raising taxes or cutting any social services.

In the meantime, Democrats are still considering presenting additional bills. Dunkin has recently sided with Rauner on several issues and has drawn the ire of Madigan and other local Democrats. The likelihood of Democrats supporting a bill by Dunkin is unlikely.

State Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) said that hearings would be held this week to come up with ideas to work with the governor on ways to bring an end to the budget stalemate.

“We can take a look at the need for reforms,” said Cunningham. “I hope by doing this we can talk to the governor and compromise on other issues, like funding for the MAP grants. Those reforms can be talked about, along with the pensions.”

Some local Democrats have said that negotiations with the governor have not gone well up to this point. Republicans have been calling for 20 percent cut in state funding for higher education for the 2016-17 year. However, that would be a reduction of the 30 percent cut that Rauner requested last year.

“I believe we can get something done,” said Burke last week. “If we just talk about the budget, we can work something out. I keep talking to Democrats and Republicans for ideas.”

Steve Brown, the longtime spokesperson for Madigan, said that Rauner is “the only one who has cut higher education.”

Rauner vetoed the bill that Madigan called to provide $721 million for higher education and MAP grants for lower-income students. The bill would have also provided $40 million for community colleges.

The governor rejected the bill because he said it would create a larger hole in the state budget. Burke joined other legislators in sending a letter to the governor to talk about a solution to the budget standoff.

Burke defended her bill to free up higher education grants for eligible students, saying the time to act is now.

“So let’s honor those commitments and let’s get the ball rolling on the MAP grants and the funding for the community college.”

Dr. Sylvia Jenkins, president of Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, was disappointed that Burke’s original bills were not given more consideration by the governor. Jenkins said Moraine is in good shape for now but is concerned about the future depending on how long this budget impasse lasts.

“Some colleges will have to close programs and some teachers will have to be let go,” said Jenkins.