Quinn pushes budget, tuition help in visit to UI
Gov. Pat Quinn says failing to adopt his budget plan — which relies on extending a temporary income tax increase — will mean a $50 million cut in the state program that helps pay tuition costs for low-income college students.
A week after his budget address, Quinn visited the University of Illinois and other colleges Thursday to push his plan to increase funding for need-based grants for college students.
"It's important for all of us in government to work together to invest in programs to help students get to college and stay in college," said Quinn, flanked by 17 UI students who now receive grants from the state's Monetary Award Program.
Quinn has proposed doubling funding over the next five years for the Monetary Award Program, which received $373 million this school year. His budget would add about $50 million next year, bringing funding to $423 million.
The governor said the $50 million would provide grants to 21,000 more college students statewide. University officials have said it would mean another $5 million to $7 million for UI students; one in five UI students now receives a MAP grant.
About 58 percent of MAP recipients have no resources to pay for college, and the program provides scholarships for many students who are the first in their family to attend college, the governor said.
"I went to the University of Illinois. I'm a proud graduate," Quinn said. "We want people to say that all over the state, to have every part of Illinois included."
Rising tuition costs have put strains on the MAP program. About a decade ago, all Illinois students who qualified were able to receive MAP grants. But now only about half of the 280,000 applicants receive scholarships. The average grant is $2,500 a year.
UI sophomore Diana Del Real, who is majoring in community health, said she is the first in her family to attend college, and she wants to be a role model for her two younger brothers.
"This dream of going to college would not have been affordable if it wasn't for the MAP grant," she said. "Without the financial support of the MAP grant, many college students would find themselves having to drop out of college and consider not going to college."
Quinn has called for extending the temporary income tax increase enacted in 2011 to avoid major spending cuts for education and other services. The income tax increase rose 67 percent, from 3 percent to 5 percent.
The governor's budget also proposed flat funding for state universities, as opposed to a 12.5 percent cut state officials say would be required if the tax increase expires next January. That would cut the UI's funding by about $83 million, "which is unacceptable," Quinn said.
"Tax less and spend less means learn less in Illinois," he said, referring to Republican Bruce Rauner's plan to cut taxes and state spending.
Quinn tied his budget proposal to tax relief, with a guarantee of a $500 annual refund for every Illinois homeowner and increases in the earned income tax credit for low-income families.
"I happen to believe that the income tax is the fairest tax," he said. "I don't want to have in Illinois a situation where we overburden property taxpayers and underfund education.
Budget analysts have said the state will still have a sizable deficit even with the extension of the income tax. Asked where the money to fund the MAP grants will come from, Quinn cited unspecified "financial reforms."
In what was perhaps a swipe at Rauner, a wealthy Winnetka businessman, Quinn said Abraham Lincoln, who established the land-grant university system, "knew how important it is to make sure education is not just for the elite and those with all kinds of money, millionaires and billionaires. They don't need a financial scholarship, but there's a lot of working people, everyday people, who live from paycheck to paycheck. They want their kids to have an opportunity to get a University of Illinois education."
On other issues:
Pensions: Asked what he would say to faculty members seeing their pensions cut by the governor's reform plan, Quinn said the best way to protect pensions is to approve a budget that invests in the university. He said it could take a year or more to sort out challenges to the pension reform plan in the courts.
Capital projects: Quinn has proposed a bipartisan task force to come up with a plan to fund state building projects. He provided no specifics Thursday but said he had talked with UI President Bob Easter and Chancellor Phyllis Wise about the UI's "laundry list" of priorities.
"I believe in investing in education, and that means investing in buildings, too. I'm quite hopeful that we can get a plan together that will continue our building program or universities," he said, citing state support for the renovation of Lincoln Hall and the new Electrical and Computer Engineering building. Those projects were part of the last capital bill to be approved, in 2010.
Earlier in the day Quinn visited DePaul University in Chicago and Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Proposed 2014-15: $423 million (governor's budget plan)
2013-14: $373 million
2012-13: $371 million
2011-12: $441 million (with a supplemental appropriation)
Source: Illinois Student Assistance Commission, governor's budget plan