I have learned a lot of things in my first year in the General Assembly, but a few lessons stand out above the rest. One of those is the undeniable fact that Illinois government is addicted to promising money that it does not have. This past month, there were two perfect examples in the General Assembly of lawmakers promising money to struggling universities and students that their proposals won’t deliver.
The majority party in the Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto of their proposal to fund community colleges and students’ MAP grants (Senate Bill 2043). This legislation promised $721 million in funding, but didn’t include any money to pay for it.
The Governor’s office of Management and Budget confirmed that the bill “…provides no funding source to pay for the additional spending.” It was vetoed because it is a funding plan that contains no actual funding, but the majority party in the Senate voted to override. Speaker Madigan attempted an override in the House as well, but fell a few votes short.
The day after the failed override attempt Speaker Madigan actually “doubled-down” on his push for unfunded spending. His new plan (House Bills 2990 and 648) promises $3.7 billion for higher education and other programs, but includes only $454 million to pay for it. That leaves another $2.4 billion in empty promises, but the majority party in the House passed it anyway and then adjourned the House for a month-long vacation despite our strong objections.
There is nothing I want more than to work with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to end this budget impasse and restore funding for everyone who’s being caught in the crossfire– students and colleges, seniors on fixed incomes, and working parents trying to make ends meet; but pushing unfunded plans one after another isn’t the answer. It’s a big part of how we got into this mess.
To fund higher education there are a number of real, workable plans still on the table that would actually deliver the dollars they promise, including House Bill 4539, which I am co-sponsoring. This bill would provide approximately $1.68 billion to fund community colleges, universities, and students’ MAP grants. The full $1.68 billion would be funded by companion legislation that affords the Governor the ability to manage monies in existing state funds, much like the fix we approved last spring to plug gaping holes Democrats left in the FY 15 budget.
House Bill 4539 doesn’t merely promise funding it specifies a plan to actually deliver it. It’s a realistic plan and would be a great starting point for discussion on a bi-partisan compromise.