Illinois lawmakers responded Monday to news that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a measure into law that will release $600 million to fund the state’s public colleges and universities through the summer.
Rauner and legislative Democrats have been deadlocked on a spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1. The budget impasse led some state universities to institute layoffs and cutbacks.
The bill’s co-sponsor, Donne Trotter, was optimistic about the legislature’s bipartisan effort but claimed there was more to be done to bolster the state’s education system.
"This emergency funding plan is the first step toward stabilizing our public universities," Assistant Majority Leader Donne Trotter said in a statement. "I am glad the governor is working with us but there's more to be done. College students shouldn't wait for piecemeal solutions. We should keep our economic engine strong by restoring the people's trust in our education system and our state."
Sen. Tom Cullerton said passing the measure was a step in the right direction but not a cause for celebration.
“I look at is as a good first step towards a nice compromise,” Cullerton told Ward Room. “I don’t think anyone should celebrate that were at this point ten months in.”
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno echoed those sentiments.
“Let’s not celebrate just yet,” Radogno said on the Senate floor. “We have a lot of work before us.”
Chicago State University has been one of the hardest hit schools in the state. As a result of the impasse, the school cancelled its spring break and moved its commencement ceremonies up to April 28. Prior to Rauner signing the bill into law, CSU was on the verge of closing.
The school will now receive $20 million in funding to keep the school running.
Members of the Illinois House Legislative Black Caucus view the law's passage as a clear victory for CSU.
“We actually did save CSU,” Rep. Rita Mayfield said in a statement. “Without this appropriation bill we put in place, CSU’s doors would have closed next week.”
Rep. Marcus Evans also claimed lawmakers stood up for the state’s beleaguered public colleges and universities.
“We took a stand,” Evans said in a statement. “We took a stand for Western Illinois. We took a stand for Eastern Illinois. We took a stand for Southern Illinois but most importantly for Chicago State University.”
Nevertheless, officials from CSU claimed the funding was not enough.
“While appreciative and supportive of the emergency funding, limited allocation by the state will still require CSU to make difficult cost-cutting decisions moving forward, including additional workforce reductions,” a statement from the university read.
Last week, Rauner’s office lauded the legislature’s bipartisan effort.
“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 spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. “We are hopeful the General Assembly will build on this bipartisan momentum in the weeks ahead as we negotiate a balanced budget with reform for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017.”
Rauner’s key Democratic counterpart, House Speaker Michael Madigan, placed blame on the governor last week for creating the dire situation.
“Governor Rauner has said that crisis creates opportunity and leverage, and that government may have to be shut down for a while,” Madigan said in a statement. “Now, he has forced a situation where some universities are on the verge of closing.”
Illinois is reeling from a budget impasse that dates back to July of last year. Over the course of the stalemate, the Democrat-controlled legislature has battled with Rauner over his pro-business, union-weakening Turnaround Agenda.
The state’s public colleges, universities and social services have suffered as a result of the impasse.
The funding is made possible because of a surplus in the state's Education Assistance Fund. The plan also includes nearly $170 million in tuition grants for low-income students.