Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is talking about college funding and talking about elementary and high school funding. He’s talking, and what he says makes sense.
There’s no 2016 state budget 247 days into the budget year. The out-of-control spending buffeted by court orders and legal mandates could hit a projected $12 billion deficit of a trainwreck when the year ends July 1. Illinois just dodged an extra fiscal bullet fired off by the state Senate.
Higher education in Illinois is ripping at itself as a 20 percent cut is forecast in this state without even the modest restraints of a budget. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville just cut two varsity sports, and more slashing is likely. There is obviously a problem.
There was no money for a 2016 college spending bill or to fund the Monetary Award Program grants to needy college students because the deficit had already swallowed the money. Rauner vetoed a Senate bill that wrote colleges and students a check but had no way to fund that check.
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The Senate on Wednesday voted to override Rauner’s veto, but the override failed in the House. Now the task is to go at it again and find a way to pay for the college expenses.
So while 2016 is in tatters, Rauner is talking about Illinois getting at least something right in 2017. He wants to make our early childhood, elementary and secondary education the state’s first budget priority and fully fund the general state aid obligation for the first time in seven years.
He’s bumping early childhood education by 25 percent to $393 million. He is traveling the state stumping for roughly $6 billion in school funding, including a stop at Belleville East High School.
“Education is the most important thing we do as a community. Nothing is more important. Nothing,” Rauner said. “Illinois brings in $33 billion. We can fund our schools.”
We negotiate with fanatics in Iran. We can sometimes bring Russia’s megalomaniac Vladimir Putin to the table. The basic rule of politics is to start with the points of agreement.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have refused to talk about a 2016 budget. Won’t they at least talk about what should be our state’s prime mission — educating our kids?
If state lawmakers won’t speak up for higher education, what about the elementary and secondary students? If fiscal meltdown doesn’t inspire state lawmakers to speak about governing, exactly what will?