SPRINGFIELD — Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois Senate think they have found a successful formula for ending nearly yearlong partisan standoffs over state spending.
For the second time in as many weeks, senators from both sides of the aisle came together Thursday to approve funding for public universities, community colleges and grants to low-income students, all of which had been deprived of state money since the fiscal year began July 1 without a budget in place.
The winning formula: spending bills that aren’t tied to items on Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pro-business, union-weakening “turnaround agenda” but are tied to specific revenue sources.
“It’s worked in the Senate, and I strongly encourage the House to do the same as we have done,” said Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, “because it’s the best thing to do — the best way to move forward, obviously, in a bipartisan manner — for all the people of Illinois.”
The measure approved Thursday would spend $454 million to bring eight state university systems up to 60 percent funding, the same level that Chicago State University received in a measure Rauner signed into law last week. That part of the plan was approved on a 55-2 vote.
The spending would be covered by letting the state off the hook for repaying money borrowed from special funds to plug holes in last year’s budget. That portion passed on a 54-3 vote.
McGuire’s comments came at a news conference shortly after the votes. He was joined by a fellow Democrat, Sen. Gary Forby of Benton, and Republican Sens. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville and Karen McConnaughay of St. Charles.
Barickman, who represents Illinois State University, called the legislation “yet another small step forward, but an important one.”
“We’re demonstrating an ability to work together in a bipartisan manner,” he said. “I think there’s a blueprint here for how we can continue to work together on all the various things that are important to our state and ultimately get a budget passed for this next fiscal year.”
“But we’re not going to give up on it,” he said.
Approval of the measure came a day after Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman told a House committee that the $12.5 million his school is receiving from the $600 million stopgap measure Rauner signed last week won’t be enough to get the school through the summer.
Glassman told committee members that he’ll likely have to cut more positions on top of the 363 jobs that have been eliminated since last summer.
The initial stopgap measure funded Eastern Illinois and seven other state universities, aside from Chicago State, at 31 percent of last year’s levels. If the House approves the new Senate measure and Rauner signs it, Eastern Illinois would receive an additional $11.7 million. Southern Illinois would receive $53.8 million, and Illinois State would receive $19.6 million. Community colleges, which received 27 percent of their funding in the previous bill, would also be brought up to 60 percent funding.
The Senate also is waiting for the House to take action on a measure it approved two weeks ago on 55-0 vote that would authorize spending $441 million on social service programs that have been deprived of funding amid the budget impasse. Like the money in the earlier higher education stopgap plan, the social services money would come from a dedicated state fund.
The Senate’s newfound bipartisan spirit hasn’t extended to a Democratic proposal to overhaul the way the state distributes money to local school districts.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, didn’t call his measure for a vote Thursday following strong criticism from Republicans a day earlier upon the release of the Illinois State Board of Education’s district-by-district analysis of the plan.
John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said leadership wanted to give members more time to review what it would mean for the school districts they represent.