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It wasn’t easy, but look on the bright side

Monday, Apr 25, 2016

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

A blog post appears to have helped at least temporarily break the long stalemate at the Illinois Statehouse.

Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, wrote up a story and I posted it on my blog ( last Monday about a way to provide some funding for higher education. Universities and community colleges haven’t received a dollar from the state since June of last year because the government has no budget. Some are on the verge of actually going under.

Fortner’s idea wasn’t new. Some other folks, particularly at the endangered Eastern Illinois University, have been saying for a while now that money is just sitting in a state account and isn’t being used for its intended purpose. Budget negotiators have also been eyeing the fund.

But, for whatever reason, Fortner’s proposal took off like a rocket. It probably helped that the Republican legislator devised the plan with a Democrat from the Senate, Pat McGuire of Joliet.

The governor’s folks almost immediately embraced Fortner’s concept, which gives higher education hundreds of millions of dollars to tide the schools over until tuition money starts coming in. The money comes from the Education Assistance Fund, which receives dedicated tax revenues and is split between K-12 and higher education.

Rep. Fortner’s proposal also included giving universities “relief from some of the procurement code.” Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he wants to redo some of the reforms enacted after Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment, and has made it part of his otherwise controversial “Turnaround Agenda.” But while those earlier procurement reforms have, indeed created problems at universities and in state government, House Speaker Michael Madigan has resisted changing them. Legitimate fears of history repeating itself after the Blagojevich scandals is cited as the main reason.

Rauner won’t negotiate a budget until he passes his Turnaround Agenda. So, good news came when Rauner decided not to tie his procurement reform demands to the passage of Fortner’s funding plan. And then more good news came when top Democrats started openly talking about “building a bridge” to next fiscal year, which begins July 1. They can’t pay the state’s obligations without a lot more revenue, and they can’t raise taxes without an agreement on the Turnaround Agenda. So, they wanted to try and prevent a systemic meltdown in the meantime.

The imminent closure of Chicago State University at the end of April, the severe problems faced by several social service providers (including Catholic Charities), the possibility that the legislature might not fund K-12 schools this year, the state comptroller’s decision to delay issuing legislative paychecks for two months and the looming week-long legislative Passover break, all combined to create an extreme sense of urgency.

So, Fortner’s op-ed came just at the right time.

And things are starting to look up elsewhere, too.

Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks’ proposed constitutional amendment to reform the redistricting process sailed out of committee last week. Franks pledged to include some changes suggested by (who else?) Rep. Fortner, and the Illinois Chamber supports it, which possibly indicates where the Rauner folks are.

Ending gerrymandering is part of the governor’s Turnaround Agenda. Speaker Madigan once called redistricting reform a “plot” by Republicans. Yet, he’s supporting Franks’ proposal.

Meanwhile, significant progress is being made in negotiations behind the scenes on workers’ compensation reform, one of Gov. Rauner’s top priorities. People close to Madigan admitted late last week that some reasonable procurement reforms could be achieved.

Last week, rank-and-file legislators in both parties became so disgusted with the impasse that they forced their warring leaders just far enough apart to get something done. Fortner helped that process along by shining a bright, focused light on a solution.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Finding a way to finally end this disgraceful impasse will be far more difficult than tapping an unused state fund. And, heck, even that wasn’t easy. Negotiations were heated, attempts were made at the eleventh hour to pry even more spending out of Rauner, things broke down time and time again and Speaker Madigan ended the week with a nasty shot across Rauner’s bow.

“Time will tell,” Madigan said via press release, “if Governor Rauner has further intentions of destroying our state institutions and human service providers, or if he will begin working with us to craft a full-year budget that is not contingent on passage of his demands that will destroy the middle class.”

Rauner is almost always quick to respond in kind to these sorts of statements by Madigan. This time, though, he let it go.


* Related…

* Rauner, Madigan both blink on higher education money

* Illinois lawmakers pass $600 million university stopgap

* Illinois Lawmakers Pass Bill To Fund Colleges, Universities

* Editorial: Stop-gap MAP Grant legislation not enough

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Cassandra - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:08 am:

    So, as I understand it, the money in this education fund wasn’t going anywhere, it had to be spent on education, and only on education, no matter how high it piled up. With all respect to Rep. Fortner for finally doing something, one wonders why it took so long for any legislator to act. Are most of them really that ignorant about state budgeting and where the money is and how accessible it is. Or was the idea to hit up the Taxpayer ATM for as much as possible first, then add the education fund money to the total take.
    Given Illinois’ decades-long history of extraordinarily bad governance, I suppose either explanation is likely. It’s not the citizens or the students our political masters are thinking about. They are thinking about themselves.

  2. - Honeybear - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:11 am:

    My great fear is that this move was only temporary release of pressure on College town Raunerites before the next “leverage event” begins, the declaration of impasse with the AFSCME contract, the Great Labor War. AFSCME and the Raunerites are in Labor court this morning for the hearing. The pattern that I have noticed is that Rauner will ease off the pressure on his owned before the big event. The Good Friday Massacre, the 17 Labor contracts, are good examples. Thus the 600m before the Great Labor War. It establishes “reasonableness”. There might have been a strategic withdrawal from the TA but what Rauner really wants is about to come to pass, the shutdown of government because AFSCME has gone on strike (forced by Rauner). But the result will be the near total collapse of the workforce, a lawsuit prohibiting all State workers from getting paid, and the collapse of a lot more of our institutions. No the signal to return to your seats has been given. The main show is about to start and the curtain will open on what Rauner has been preparing for this whole time.

  3. - thunderspirit - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:15 am:

    Temporary respite or a sign of things to come? I’m undecided myself.

    Happy to see SOMEthing happen, though.

  4. - Cassandra - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:23 am:

    Aren’t the legislators about to go out for a break? Maybe they could spend their mini-vacations looking through the various state funds to see if there is some relief money for the social service agencies in most dire need of funds to keep going. Now that the legislators know about “special funds,” that is. If they have been paying attention, that is.

  5. - Travelguy - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:24 am:

    If all of these reforms happen now, it seems to me (and certainly to the average uninformed voter) that Rauner is winning, that refusing to sign a state budget was exactly what he needed to do for things that appear to be structural reforms. By then, programs will be running again, and the pain will have faded. Voters have a short memory, and November of 2018 is still a while away…

  6. - Big Joe - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:26 am:

    Good to see even a little bit getting done. But so much must still be done to allow those vulnerable citizens in our state get the social service help they sorely need. Too bad the gov didn’t think to help them too.

  7. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:33 am:

    ===looking through the various state funds to see if there is some relief money for the social service agencies===

    ===Too bad the gov didn’t think to help them too===

    If you subscribed you’d know they found some money and the governor’s on board.

    Just sayin…

  8. - A Modest Proposal - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:43 am:

    Maybe this can be like Rauner hitting the reset button on his governorship

  9. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:48 am:

    ===Rauner hitting the reset button===

    I’d apply that to Madigan, too, but I agree.

  10. - Independent Retired Lawyer Journalist - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:53 am:

    Good column, Rich. Thank you.
    In any negotiation, both sides have to be able to declare some sort of victory. No different here.
    Rauner has to be able to say the 1% is better off because of him. Madigan that he earned some hostages’ freedom.
    Seems to me that’s what happened last week?
    I love the smell of progress in the morning!

  11. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:55 am:

    Cassie when they return to Springfield next week, there are no more breaks in the schedule until May 31st (except for three weekends).

  12. - Cassandra - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 9:56 am:

    Ii just put a subscription on my Mother’s Day wish list. We’ll see…

  13. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 10:33 am:

    More legislators legislating, please.

    Represent your constituents and don’t fear the governor or the leaders.

    If enough of you hang together, none of them can lay a glove on you.

  14. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 10:37 am:

    For me, it’s two things, no matter how they get done, no matter who can get them done…

    FY2016 and Labor Peace.

    Illinois needs budget(S) and Illinois needs state workers locked into labor “peace” to fulfill the state’s duties and responsibilities.

    We all need successes like the Higher Ed successes,

    Need. Required. Must.

    If the General Assembly members lead, great.

    If Rauner gives on Labor musts, great.

    If Madigan runs, what he may feel, are half-loaf bills, great.

    We need trust, we need compromise, we need the GOP GA to strong arm the process of COMPROMISE and when 71 and 36 is leveraged within governing parameters to lead to successes and trust… Keep. Going!

    The Higher Ed compromise IS a stopgap.

    But, it’s a beginning of trust, and map to more successes and a beacon to an end game of…

    FY2016 and… Labor Peace.

    Do the doable. Build. Structure successes.

    I hope.

  15. - allknowingmasterofracoondom - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 10:40 am:

    “A blog post appears to have helped at least temporarily break the long stalemate at the Illinois Statehouse”

    Come on Rich…..

  16. - illini - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 11:02 am:

    allknowing… - If that is indeed the case - give credit where credit is due. Small favors - one step at a time.

  17. - Bronco Bahma - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 11:08 am:

    “Too many politicians, not enough statesmen.”

    A quote I heard from a very wise elected official many years ago. It would seem that a small group of statesmen made a difference last week. Lets hope we see more of this in the weeks ahead.

    Nice piece, Rich.

  18. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 11:17 am:

    Well written, and accurate. This is all cause for optimism. Meanwhile, Madigan’s petulant actions continue making Rauner look better every day.

  19. - Honeybear - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 1:14 pm:

    OW Rauner is pulling the plug on Labor Peace starting today.

  20. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 25, 16 @ 1:59 pm:

    - Honeybear -

    Then “Vote Accordingly”

    That also means when the dust clears, and some agreement is reached, if Labor refuses to “Vote Accordingly” this November, as Rauner thinks he can fool the Trades and Public Sector members, then that’s on the Labor Movement as a whole.

    If a trade, or a public sector Union isbg working against the Raunerites, I don’t actually know how they plan to save themselves.

    Elections have consequences.

    Past ones… ones coming up too.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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