Rauner tries to pin blame on Madigan for university funding crisis

By Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday tried to blame House Speaker Michael Madigan for the financial crisis facing some Illinois public universities, contending the Democratic leader is holding up a compromise to agitate voters ahead of the primary election.

A Madigan spokesman denied the claim, saying the speaker is working to collect votes to override Rauner’s recent veto of a bill that would release $721 million to fund community colleges and tuition grants for low-income students. The exchange came as the budget impasse, which has left state government operating without full spending authority since July, threatens closures and layoffs at Illinois universities, including Chicago State and Eastern Illinois.

While turning thumbs down on the Democratic plan saying Illinois can’t afford it, Rauner is pushing legislation that would spend $1.6 billion on tuition grants, community colleges and universities but also allow him to make cuts elsewhere in state government as he sees fit.



Rauner said Madigan is holding up a compromise to score points ahead of the March 15 legislative primaries. The powerful speaker is running “a dictatorship of one individual who cares about politics over people,” said the governor, who called Madigan’s veto override attempt “a sham vote.”

On Monday, Rauner came out in support of another option: a bill that would employ an accounting gimmick to send $160 million to struggling colleges and universities, including Chicago State, which has canceled spring break to make sure students can finish the semester before the school goes broke.

“There are real solutions available to us to solve the crisis in higher education funding, but those solutions are being ignored and, instead, Speaker Madigan and his folks in the legislature are trying to create a crisis and create headlines around the crisis to impact the primary voting that’s going on right now,” Rauner said. “Political games are being put ahead of students’ lives.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, “The only thing the speaker and speaker’s staff is trying to do is whip up more votes for the override” of Rauner’s veto on the tuition grant bill. “That’s all we’re trying to do.”

Brown said the speaker’s office is reviewing the bill to funnel money to colleges and universities, but raised concerns that the legislation does not spell out which universities would receive the money.

Brown also noted that the bill makes the money available only if lawmakers approve separate legislation that forgives $454 million in borrowing that Rauner’s administration already made from other state accounts. Included in that figure is $180 million for school construction projects, Brown said.


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