lawmakers pass $600 million university stopgap
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[April 23, 2016]
By Dave McKinney and Karen Pierog
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois’ cash-starved
public universities and community colleges won a temporary financial
reprieve on Friday after the state legislature approved a $600 million
funding plan, offering a rare break in the state's long-running budget
The legislation now goes to Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who
praised its passage and is expected to sign it.
“By passing this bipartisan agreement, lawmakers in both chambers
put aside political differences to provide emergency assistance for
higher education, ensuring universities and community colleges
remain open and low-income students can pay for school," Rauner
The plan represents a partial thaw in a crippling 10-month budget
deadlock between Rauner and Democrats who control the state
legislature that has hit the state's higher education and social
service systems acutely. Illinois is the only state without a full
The votes benefit Chicago State University, which serves a
predominantly minority enrollment in Chicago. It accelerated the
close of its school year and vowed to quit paying employees after
April because of the lack of state funding.
Under the legislation now headed to Rauner, the university would get
$20.1 million. Low-income students reliant on Illinois' Monetary
Award Program scholarships also would see about $169.7 million.
But the overall $600 million package represents only 34 percent of
the $1.7 billion that Democrats originally earmarked for
higher-education spending this fiscal year.
The plan contained no human services funds, though the state Senate
approved competing legislation on Friday combining the $600 million
for higher education with $441 million for social services. Rauner's
office said he does not support that plan.
House Speaker Michael
Madigan, a Chicago Democrat with whom Rauner has feuded, criticized
the governor after Friday's votes for not making human-services
spending a priority.
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"If he continues his unwillingness to assist our human service
providers, he will be successful in destroying the safety net for
those most in need and for critical state services," Madigan said.
The respite for the state's higher-education system comes after its
community colleges received rating downgrades and negative outlooks
by Moody's Investors Service in recent weeks.
"The negative outlook reflects pressure on the community college
sector in Illinois as a result of the state's budget impasse and
ongoing fiscal challenges," Moody's said.
In October, Moody's cut the ratings of six state universities after
its downgrade of Illinois to Baa1.
Standard & Poor's in late March put five state universities under
review for potential rating downgrades.
(Reporting by Dave McKinney; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
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