Illinois lawmakers pass $600 million university stopgap

Send a link to a friend  Share

[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 stalemate.

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 said.

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 operating budget.

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.

[to top of second column]

"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)

[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Back to top