GOP ties funding to reforms

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There’s another option for legislators to consider in the effort to find funding for Illinois higher education. Republican Sens. Dale Righter of Mattoon and Chapin Rose of Mahomet said Friday that they would push a plan to tie higher-education funding to reforms in the way that colleges…

CHAMPAIGN — There's another option for legislators to consider in the effort to find funding for Illinois higher education.

Republican Sens. Dale Righter of Mattoon and Chapin Rose of Mahomet said Friday that they would push a plan to tie higher-education funding to reforms in the way that colleges and universities purchase goods and services.

They said Gov. Bruce Rauner is on board with the plan, unlike the Democratic-backed higher-education funding bill approved in the Legislature on Thursday that appropriates $721 million for community colleges and Monetary Award Program scholarships, but provides no source of funding. Rauner's staff said he will veto that bill (SB 2043) when it gets to his desk.

Earlier this week, Righter introduced another higher-education spending bill that, tied to a bill giving the governor extraordinary power to move money from different funds, would give universities 80 percent of last year's level of funding.

So far this year they have received no state funds.

"We are doing everything we can to meet the Democrats halfway," said Righter. "Both of these are options. We are trying to do something the Democrats will agree to so we can get this done."

The idea advanced Friday by Rose and Righter has not yet been introduced as legislation, but incorporates Rauner's procurement reform ideas.

In Wednesday's State of the State address, the governor called for "comprehensive procurement reform — both legislative and administrative — that maintains necessary ethics and transparency safeguards, streamlines bureaucracy, offers greater flexibility to agencies, and follows best practices from other states.

"Done properly, we believe this can save Illinois taxpayers more than $500 million per year. We look forward to working with the Legislature to get it done."

The Rose/Righter plan calls for funding MAP grants to low-income college students at 100 percent of last year's funding levels. Community colleges would get 90 percent of fiscal year 2015 levels and four-year universities would get 80 percent of that year's levels.

The money would come from the already-diminished general revenue fund, Rose said.

"It's a reflection of the reality that everything is now a debt position of the state of Illinois," Rose acknowledged. "But at least we're fixing something in the long term so we can pay down these bills going forward."

He pointed out that the higher-education funding bill sent to Rauner "had not one penny for the U of I or any of the rest of the universities.

"And the Democrats' bills have no cost reduction whatsoever to try to ease the budget pain of the state fiscally. Our bill addresses the needs of students, universities, community colleges and in the process would pick up half a billion dollars in costs toward the bigger, global fiscal problems of the whole state."

In testimony last year, university administrators acknowledged that Blagojevich-era procurement reforms were costing them millions in lost time and bidding opportunities. Former UI President Robert Easter said the procurement rules cost the university as much as $70 million a year.

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