Brian's Column 01-28-2016

 State of the State & Higher Education Funding

This week in Springfield Governor Bruce Rauner delivered his State of the State address. This annual speech gives Illinois Governors the opportunity to share their policy initiatives, past accomplishments and future plans.

He made it clear that despite the budget impasse, he plans to take action by moving forward with an innovative transformation agenda that builds on turning Illinois around; making government more efficient and effective.

At the same time, he was hopeful that compromise on fundamental reforms and the budget are within reach.  He was clearly interested in compromise and bipartisanship – if there’s a willingness on the other end to meet him halfway.

The transformation reforms included pension reform, education reform, procurement reform, health and human services transformation, criminal justice reform, the information technology revolution and an economic development initiative.

His focus on these initiatives was important, but at the end of the day we still need a budget.   The speech makes it clear that there is a lot of common ground between the Governor and the General Assembly – and he’s clearly willing to move our state forward when Democratic leaders are willing to work with him.

The last day of session this week included a disingenuous piece of higher education legislation.  House Amendment 2 to Senate Bill 2043 would make appropriations of $721 million for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) and community colleges’ programs. The funding levels for these programs are the same as those contained in last year’s General Assembly-passed unbalanced budget.

The appropriations bill provides no funding source to pay for the additional spending as it is not tied to spending reductions, revenue or cost-saving reforms. The bill would add $721 million to the deficit, increase the state’s bill backlog by the same, and delay state payments to providers, vendors and contractors.

The students that benefit from MAP are an investment in Illinois’ economic future. I do not disagree that we should fund the program, but we have to make sure the money is actually there. Passing legislation with no funding mechanism and then letting these kids think the money is coming is shameful.

House Republican’s offered an alternative to this legislation that was ignored. The appropriation bill (House Bill 4539) would provide $1.6 billion dollars for all programs included in Senate Bill 2043 and Illinois’ public universities’ programs. The legislation is tied to another bill, House Bill 4521 and Senate Bill 2338, which would grant the Governor authority to respond to an unbalanced budget by reallocating funds and reducing spending in various ways.

When House Republican Leader Jim Durkin asked Senate Bill 2043’s sponsor to consider the Republican legislation, take theirs out of the record and work together to find a bipartisan solution, they refused. They wanted this bill passed to say Republicans voted against MAP funding even though there was no money to pay for what the bill appropriated. It’s unconscionable to think we would promise these kids something and then tell them the money is not there.

Governor Rauner is scheduled to give his budget address on Wednesday, February 17. It’s time that Springfield leadership starts doing their job and work together to find common-ground. We don’t need any more broken promises without the money.  Irish Statesman, Edmund Burke understood that early in his career as he once said, “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” This limited higher education bill intends to fund critical services for students with a promise. I cannot advocate for a bill that gives false hope to the kids that need our help the most and that is why I voted no.