Rauner open to alternative way to get money to Chicago State, other schools


By Celeste Bott and Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune

Gov. Bruce Rauner, under pressure over the dire funding situation at Illinois universities that has led Chicago State University to announce plans to shorten its school year and cancel spring break, said Wednesday that he’s open to finding a way to get money to those schools.

“I think a legislator is trying to protect Chicago State University,” Rauner said while touring a high school in Springfield. “Then we’ve got another legislator from Charleston who wants to protect Eastern Illinois University. They’ve got a bill, it sounds like there’s a real way to pay for it. I’m good with that.”

One of the lawmakers Rauner was referring to appears to be Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin, of Chicago, who repeatedly has broken with his party in recent months to back the Republican governor on key votes. Dunkin, now facing a heated Democratic primary contest against union-backed Juliana Stratton as a result of his Rauner alliance, on Wednesday announced he has introduced a bill to send $160 million to struggling colleges and universities and $40 million to community colleges.


Dunkin said the money would go to Chicago State as well as Northeastern Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois universities, although the legislation he filed does not specify which institutions would receive the money or how it would be doled out. Dunkin asserted that Rauner had pledged on Wednesday to sign the bill if it passes — the governor did not — and brushed away skepticism from reporters about the bill’s chances, given the political situation at the Capitol.

Dunkin said his bill has support from all Republicans and some Democrats, but he couldn’t name a single Democratic supporter when asked to do so. Rauner, for his part, made a vague reference to the Dunkin bill and said he “could support that.”

“I’ve got to understand that bill a little better, but that’s a way, but then we’ll have the money, and I could support that,” Rauner said.

Technically, the state doesn’t have the money.

Dunkin’s bill relies on an accounting gimmick that allows the state not to pay back dollars that were borrowed last year from special state accounts.

Rauner’s administration borrowed the $454 million last year at the start of the budget impasse to have cash on hand to help get the state through the stalemate. The money is required to be paid back by the end of the year, making it a liability on the state’s books.

Dunkin’s bill would take effect only if a separate bill is approved that allows the state to never pay that money back. In effect, Dunkin’s bill spends money that’s already been spent.


Rauner, meanwhile, has been defending his decision to veto a bill that would have funded tuition grants for college students, saying the General Assembly has to stop trying to spend money it doesn’t have.

“I’m open to whatever works, but we’ve got to spend money that we have,” Rauner said Wednesday. “We’ve got to stop trying to spend money that we don’t have.” 


(c) 2016 the Chicago Tribune

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