SPRINGFIELD — A bill that cleared an Illinois Senate committee Wednesday evening includes more than $1 million to maintain the University of Illinois' School of Labor and Employment Relations this fiscal year — even though no one has proposed closing it.
The sum is included in a $40.2 million omnibus supplemental appropriation bill (HB 209) that also includes money to implement the state's new concealed-carry licensing program, plus a number of smaller items.
The bill passed a Senate appropriations committee Wednesday and likely will be voted on by the full Senate on Thursday, the last scheduled day of the Legislature's fall veto session. There was no discussion of the UI budget item at the committee hearing.
But a Republican House member who voted against the appropriation bill on the floor Tuesday said he believes the unusual appropriation to the UI program is a signal from union leaders that they don't want a diminished role for the school.
"What they're saying is, we're going to order the school to operate, notwithstanding what the administration of the University of Illinois thinks is best," said Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon. "We're going to operate it because that's what, at least in my view, that's what the unions think is best.
"If we're going to allow them to determine what we do with curriculum and departments and buildings, and how we best fit the curriculum for students, we're making a big mistake."
There have been suggestions in recent years, as part of the campus Stewarding Excellence review, that the school, once known as the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, should become part of the UI's College of Business, or should be folded into some other campus unit.
And union officials two weeks ago, at another legislative hearing, urged lawmakers to leave the School of Labor and Employment Relations a separate unit as it has been since 1946.
But a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO said Wednesday that union representatives had nothing to do with the budget item for the UI school in the supplemental appropriation bill.
"I'd like to take credit for it, but that's all because of the man on the third floor," said lobbyist Jason Keller, referring to House Speaker Michael Madigan.
No one from the UI attended Wednesday's committee hearing, but UI spokesman Tom Hardy said the university "wants to work with the unions and legislators."
Kay said he believed the money for the UI school that was dropped into the supplemental appropriation bill "is sending a message. They're saying they can do this year in and year out if they want to, and they could thumb their nose at the U of I officials.
"They're just playing games is what they're doing. I don't appreciate it very much. It's Illinois at its finest. We do things like that and say it's fine. But it's just not straight up."