Higher-ed relief emerging in Springfield

Higher-ed relief emerging in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — With at least three bills now in the mix, legislative supporters of higher education funding expressed renewed optimism Tuesday that a short-term budget resolution could be near, possibly by the end of the week.

But the fact that there are so many options could be problematic for cash-strapped colleges and universities, at least one of which could run out of money by May 1.

Illinois higher education has been operating without any state funding since the current fiscal year started on July 1, 2015. That's caused severe budget problems for colleges and universities, some of which have responded by laying off employees, raising tuition, eliminating or trimming programs and cutting financial aid to students.

Chicago State, the most severely hit, has said it will run out of money around May 1.

On Tuesday, there was action on three bills to aid higher education:

— A House committee approved HB 5045, sponsored by Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, that provides $166.3 million to five public universities: Chicago State, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Northeastern Illinois and Southern Illinois. It would give no money to the University of Illinois or Illinois State, nor would it provide money for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for low-income students, or for community colleges.

— House Republicans and a Democratic senator who chairs his chamber's higher education committee got behind HB 2344, sponsored by Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, that would provide $558 million to all nine public universities, the Illinois Math and Science Academy and the MAP program. The money would come from the Education Assistance Fund, a special fund that usually provides income tax money to K-12 education. It would not, however, provide any money for community colleges.

— Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, introduced SB 3423, which would provide $400 million to the Illinois Board of Higher Education for public universities to be distributed based on need; $100 million to the Illinois Community College Board, which would be distributed through the base operating grant formula; and $365 million for MAP grants.

It was unclear Tuesday evening which bill, or possibly another option, would find the greatest favor in the Legislature. Several lawmakers said they hoped to complete action on a funding plan this week, before the Legislature takes next week off for Passover.

As an indication of the state of negotiations on budget items, Senate President John Cullerton said Tuesday evening he wasn't familiar enough with the new proposals to comment.

But the fact that there were member-initiated proposals on the table was taken as an encouraging sign by legislators.

"There's certainly a flurry of activity going," said Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin. "I would say that to my knowledge, this ground-up initiative from the membership to the leaders as a way to craft the budget has happened exactly never."

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said, "I think everyone would like to get something done before we go home this week. Whether it comes together or not, who knows?"

Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, said he would "probably not" support the Fortner bill because it doesn't include money for community colleges. "Yes, we have to look after Eastern and Chicago State, but there are community colleges that are not far behind them in terms of their issues, and they have just as many employees and many more students," he said.

Bennett said would be willing "to take a look" at Righter's bill because it would aid universities, colleges and MAP.

The Fortner bill was endorsed by more than a dozen House Republicans, plus Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, at a news conference Tuesday. It provides four-month "stopgap" funding for all public universities, including $181.7 million to the UI, plus $198.5 million for MAP.

"Basically, it's from May 1 to the end of August. That should give them the certainty to make sure that they can open in the fall, as well as provide us time to get a real permanent solution," Fortner said.

Constitutional amendments clear Senate panel

An Illinois Senate committee Tuesday evening advanced three state constitutional amendment proposals to the full Senate, all of which could appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot for consideration by voters.

One would substitute Illinois' 46-year-old flat income tax with a graduated or progressive income tax that supporters say — with a companion piece of legislation that spells out the tax rates — would mean a tax cut for 99 percent of families in the state.

Another approved by the Senate Executive Committee would eliminate the office of the lieutenant governor and the third would establish a new procedure for redistricting. All three passed largely on party-line votes with Republicans opposed.

The Legislature has until May 7 to approve constitutional amendments for the November ballot. The only restriction on the number of questions on the ballot is they be limited to three articles of the Constitution.

The most far-reaching of the proposals would change Illinois' income tax structure, which now imposes a 3.75 percent income tax on individuals.

"It would allow Illinois to enter the modern era, along with most of the states that have an income tax, and the federal government," said Senate sponsor Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. "It would impose lower income tax rates on lower income levels and higher income tax rates on higher income levels."

The proposed income tax rate structure includes a 9.75 percent bracket for taxpayers filing jointly with a net income of $1.5 million or more.

Todd Maisch, CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, spoke against the proposed amendment.

"We believe that the flat tax is a fair tax. If you make more you pay more," he said, calling it "one of the positive aspects for our business community."

"We think it's really a bad policy to identify your advantages and make them go away," Maisch said. "If you make this kind of change and think that it's not going to have repercussions, you're wrong. I think most of us have seen the stores that the city of Chicago was third locally for out-migration of millionaires. Athens, Greece, is better than Chicago for holding onto its millionaires."

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Bulldogmojo wrote on April 19, 2016 at 11:04 pm


The U of I is General Motors in east central Illinois. If we are allowed to stall financially then YOU AND YOUR LOCAL BUSINESS WILL FAIL

A whole new round of layoffs at the U of I will be underway over the summer according to Elyne Cole (overpaid Assoc provost for HR) So everyone at the U of I should hunker down and spend NO extra money on local businesses. Then maybe the word of lost sales will make it up to the rarefied air where clueless Todd Maisch, CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce lives.

Brace for impact