Daily Egyptian

University, Illinois leaders react to Rauner’s State of the State address

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner recited Wednesday his mantra of promoting a business-friendly atmosphere in Illinois through principles listed on his so-called “Turnaround Agenda” during the State of the State address.

There was talk of freezing property taxes, curbing the power of state unions, introducing term limits for state politicians and redrawing legislative maps. Little was said regarding the ongoing budget impasse, which has left public universities, like SIU, without state money for fiscal year 2016.

“To me, that was the elephant in the room that went undiscussed in the governor’s speech and I think other officials were somewhat surprised by that as well,” SIU President Randy Dunn said.

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During his speech, Rauner acknowledged the importance of state-funded post-secondary education and proposed reforming higher education by cutting administrative costs and rerouting savings to the classrooms.

But Dunn said that’s nothing new. 

“We’ve been in discussion on reduction of administrative costs and overall bureaucracy since last summer, given the work that was advanced by the Senate Democrats at that time,” Dunn said. 

Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Foundation of Teachers, criticized Rauner for his “so-called education reforms,” via press release just after the 40-minute speech. He also noted the governor did not address the “funding crisis in higher education.”

“Try as he might to distract from it today, Gov. Rauner can’t escape his failure to fulfill his primary responsibility — to negotiate and enact a state budget,” Montgomery said.

Community colleges and public universities across the state have received no state money for research projects, need-based grant aid or operational costs. And as the stalemate between Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly approaches the eight-month mark, some university officials say the damages are irreparable.

Administrators at Chicago State University said it could close as early as March 1 without state funds. Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University officials have announced layoffs and furloughs. Dunn said in a WSIU radio interview last week that the budget delay has terrible repercussions for SIU, but the university has enough money in reserves to keep the school afloat through the semester. 

He indicated in that same interview that WIU and EIU do not have the level of reserve funds as SIU, Illinois State University or the University of Illinois.

While there are no plans to close any of SIU’s three campuses, Dunn and interim Chancellor William Bradley Colwell have said the university depends on state appropriations to continue providing the same functions and services it has in the past. 

“At some point, we do need the state to do their part,” Colwell said during an interview last month. 

Per usual, local state leaders responded to Rauner’s statements on job creation with more finger-pointing across the aisle.

“We have to create a situation that fosters business and people moving back into Illinois,” Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said in a press release. He added that Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan will make state reform and job creation difficult in his determination to show Rauner “who is boss.” 

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said Rauner’s push for state spending reform has left both SIU and John A. Logan College without state money.

“Those decisions cost people jobs,” Forby said. “I hope he realizes he’s made a mistake and is going to work to undo his decisions and finally invest in southern Illinois.”

Bill Lukitsch can be contacted at [email protected] or (618) 536-3329. 

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