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Gov. Rauner vetoes education grant bill

Bill would have added $721M to state’s deficit

SPRINGFIELD – As promised, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Feb. 19 vetoed the Democrats’ plan to send more than $700 million to a popular college tuition grant program and struggling community colleges.

Rauner, R-Winnetka, said lawmakers were effectively trying to write a check they know the state can’t cover.

In all, Senate Bill 2043 aimed to appropriate about $721 million, including about $397 million for individual student awards (MAP grants) paid to colleges and universities, as well as roughly $274.5 million to bolster community college operations.

Rauner vetoed the bill, saying, “Despite its constitutional obligation to balance the budget, the General Assembly has not put forward a plan to pay for these programs, whether through spending reductions, revenue, or cost-saving reforms.”

The bill would only have added to the state’s budget deficit, the governor said.

Rauner and Republican lawmakers instead favor legislation – HB 4539 and SB 2349 – they say would appropriate $1.6 billion for all programs included in SB 2043 and for Illinois’ public universities.

But that legislation is tied to other proposals that would grant the governor authority to respond to an unbalanced budget by reallocating funds and reducing spending.

Democrats aren’t keen on that plan, with House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang having called it a request for “imperial powers to shift dollars anywhere he wants.”

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he’d discuss with fellow Senate Democrats what steps to take next regarding higher education funding.

“I’m disappointed in the governor,” Cullerton said Feb. 19. “He had a chance to back up his promises with funding. Instead, he let these students down, again.”

State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, also expressed disappointment. 

“I agree difficult decisions are necessary,” Frerichs said. “But the decision to ignore people who have demonstrated a willingness and ability to help themselves does not reflect my priorities or the values of our great state.”

Rauner and GOP legislative leaders say HB 2043, without funding, was a hollow promise, even a hoax on taxpayers.

Given the lack of funding and the state’s debt, they said it would essentially put students and colleges in competition with social service recipients each day as the state comptroller must decide which bills to pay and which to put back on the “hold” pile.

As of Feb. 19, the state owned a stack of past-due bills worth about $7.2 billion.

Illinois is now in its eighth month of fiscal year 2016 without a budget, and that’s meant no state funding for higher education and many social services.

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