Illinois House approves new college grant program

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The Illinois House Monday approved a bill creating a new grant program for college students who maintain at least a “B” average in their studies, but that Republicans said the state cannot afford.

The House voted 65-50 to approve House Bill 1316. It must still be approved by the Senate.

Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said the bill is intended to encourage students to attend college in Illinois. During the state’s budget stalemate, enrollment at many state universities has dropped as students opt to attend college elsewhere. Once they leave the state, Lang said, the students tend not to return.

“Part of the reason for this bill is to keep our best and brightest here,” Lang said. “We have this brain drain where we’re losing our students. We have thousands of students leaving Illinois because they can’t afford to go to college here. For the sake of our students and the economy, we need to keep them here.”

The bill would provide full-time students at public universities or community colleges a yearly grant of up to $4,000. To qualify, students would need at least a “B” average and must come from families who earn less than $125,000 a year.

Students who receive the grants would have to remain in Illinois for two years after they complete their schooling.

The bill also requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to set up a program to buy out the private student loans of eligible participants.

The bill is subject to money appropriated to it by the General Assembly. Lang estimated the cost at $300 million to $400 million. It would not begin until the 2018-19 school year.

Republicans said the bill may be well-intentioned, but the state cannot afford it.

“I think I’m in the land of Oz. Everything is free,” said Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley. “When you look at our fiscal condition, I doubt we’re ever going to fulfill the image we’re creating and the hope we’re creating for students. Students need all of the things you’re talking about in this bill, but I don’t see how we’re ever going to afford it.”

Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, said both ISAC and the state Board of Higher Education, which would have roles in administering the bill, are opposed to it.

“If you want to help higher education, then you get a balanced budget that funds higher education,” she said. “We have at least 26 grants programs in the state of Illinois to help students in higher education that we are not funding currently. We need to fund those programs and not bring in new ones.”

Other Republicans complained the bill has no enforcement mechanisms to recover money from students who fail to fulfill their obligations after obtaining grants.

Democrats, though, said the bill will provide another mechanism to help students with college costs.

“Universities are supposed to be accessible to everybody,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago.

— Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, http://twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.

This is the vote on House Bill 1316 http://ift.tt/2qAhHaS

 

 

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May 29, 2017 at 11:39AM

Illinois House approves new college grant program

Fewer grads from public medical schools staying in Illinois

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CHICAGO (AP) — The number of medical school graduates who stay in Illinois after graduating from the from the state’s public universities is dropping.

Crain’s Chicago Business (http://bit.ly/2qoCP4i) reports school officials are offering different takes on why, though some point to the state’s two-year budget impasse.

The state has two public university medical schools: Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The number of medical graduates from those schools who will remain in Illinois for their residencies has hit a combined all-time low. Private medical schools in the area, which don’t rely on state funding, aren’t seeing the same declines.

Among the students who decided to leave was Matt Soltys, 27, who was raised near Springfield. He earned molecular biology and kinesiology degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then went to medical school at SIU. But he’ll head the University of Iowa next month to start his internal medicine residency.

“It’s fully hitting me that I’m leaving, and I’m really sad,” he said. “The thought that the budget impasse might affect my medical education and my patients is incredibly frustrating. I wanted to go to an institution that didn’t have those constraints.”

Soltys has a rare vantage point. His father ran the psychiatry department of SIU’s medical school until last year. When he began working there in 2002, the department had six state-funded faculty positions. It now has none. He also has watched two hospitals in Springfield cut funding for internal resident positions.

Jerry Kruse, dean of SIU’s School of Medicine, said the percentage of graduates from his school who complete residencies in Illinois has fallen to 21 percent this year, the lowest in school history. The share has decreased 9 percentage points each year since 2014.

For decades before that, the percentage of the school’s roughly 70 graduates each year who stayed hovered between 40 and 45 percent.

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“Nothing has changed much over this period except the budget impasse and the atmosphere it’s created,” Kruse said. “Young doctors read about it in the papers every day and suddenly there’s a fair amount of uncertainty about the future.”

At the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine, 28 percent of this year’s graduates are staying in the state for residencies, which is down from nearly 37 percent last year. But the school’s dean, Dimitri Azar, notes that the percentage of graduates who remained in Illinois for their residencies was 33 percent in 2015, 41 percent in 2014 and nearly 34 percent in 2013.

Azar said students choose their destinations mostly based on a program’s quality, not the state’s finances.

Information from: CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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May 29, 2017 at 03:00AM

Fewer grads from public medical schools staying in Illinois

Voters take out anger on ‘dirt bag’ lawmakers over budget impasse

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SPRINGFIELD — Minutes after state Sen. Toi Hutchinson helped to pass a controversial revenue bill that was met with major Republican resistance, she was inundated with harsh words on her Facebook page.

“No more takes [sic] you dirt bags stop screwing the taxpayers!!!!!!!!” one Facebook user wrote.

“How dare you raise my taxes in this corrupt state. You are ruining people’s lives with your tax and spend ways. I literally hate you,” another person wrote.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson said she has been getting lots of negative comments on Facebook. | Screenshot

Illinois lawmakers — many of whom face uncertain re-election possibilities next year — are being inundated by comments, insults and suggestions as the clock ticks toward the end of the legislative session amid a historic and politically driven budget impasse that’s left the state in the lurch.

State universities and social service agencies haven’t received funds since Jan. 1 when a partial budget expired.

Lawmakers say constituents are amping up the pressure to stop the bleeding.

“People are so angry. And if they’re not impacted by any of the hard stuff, they zero in on the things that they hate the most. It’s in the midst of the environment that we’re in. It’s the . . . trash comments and the people who try to hijack my Facebook page,” Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said. “Go to my state Facebook page. Just take a look. It is cruel, absolutely cruel.”

Hutchinson said she receives “constant” calls about MAP college grants. She represents Governors State University, Kankakee Community College and Prairie State College.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson said she has been getting lots of negative comments on Facebook. | Screenshot

“Not only did the lack of MAP grants wreak havoc over these institutions, but I can’t tell you how many calls I get from people who say ‘I can’t finish this semester,’” Hutchinson said.

In Democratic State Sen. Heather Stean’s 7th district, which encompasses North Side and Northwest Side Chicago neighborhoods, a non-profit plans in June to close some of its facilities that help take care of people with disabilities and mental-health issues if there’s no budget. Another organization which helps to provide shelter for domestic-violence victims called to tell her they’re planning layoffs because they haven’t been able to pay employees all year.

Despite this, Steans says her constituents aren’t paying attention to the barbs being thrown in the political war between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. They just care about the results of it.

“I think people are really frustrated and fed up and to some extent don’t even know what to do with the fact that we don’t have a budget. I don’t think they want to hear about the pointing and blaming. They want us to all step up and do our job,” Steans said.

State Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Westmont, says his constituents are largely calling, emailing and stopping by to complain about their property taxes.

“Nobody is happy. The constituents I represent, they don’t care about scoring political points and so they don’t think it’s good when you make a good argument or when we really stick it to the speaker or the Democrats,” Nybo said. “They just want to see things get done. They’re practical people. . . . I don’t think they’re going to put up with it anymore.”

At baseball, games, hockey games, and when he’s dropping his kids off to school, State Rep. Michael McAuliffe, D- Chicago, said he’s hearing it all.

“They’re telling me how desperate they are, in my suburban areas as well as the city. They’re at wits’ ends. They don’t know what else to do,” McAuliffe said.

Constituents are asking for cuts, not new taxes, McAuliffe says. And many on fixed incomes are worrying if they’ll lose their homes: “Someone who lives in the city of Chicago, last year they saw their water rates go up. They saw a garbage tax. Everywhere you look there’s a new tax. And they’re squeezed all the way to the end.”

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, says he’s getting an earful, too.

“People don’t understand why we’re not funding social-service agencies and higher education,” McSweeney said, adding he’s receiving calls about the Pioneer Center for Human Services in McHenry County. “There is no good explanation.”

He’s also hearing complaints from school superintendents worried about whether their schools will be properly funded. And they ask some political questions too.

“People ask me, ‘Why hasn’t the governor been meeting with the leaders?’” McSweeney said. “I don’t have a good answer.”

House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, D-Skokie, says he’s getting calls from parents of high school students asking whether they should send their kids to an Illinois school or out-of-state.

“It’s hard to give them an answer when we treat higher education the way that we do,” Lang said.

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May 26, 2017 at 12:21PM

Voters take out anger on ‘dirt bag’ lawmakers over budget impasse

Letter: WIU will remain open

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While it is certainly unacceptable that our state officials continue to stall on passing a budget, as the editorial “Unacceptable” that appeared as part of a Gatehouse editorial series indicates, it is also unacceptable for an editorial to allude to the closure of select universities as the May 23 PJS “Unacceptable” editorial did.

The editorial also mentions the dire straits faced by mental health services, domestic violence shelters, and others as a result of the stalemate. However, these are mentioned in general terms; specific agencies are unnamed. A mention of the impact of the impasse on public higher education in general is sufficient to make the point, much like another Gatehouse newspaper chose to do in its “Unacceptable” version.

Public universities certainly face challenges as students are being driven out of state because of Illinois’ fiscal crisis and indecision. However, statements without proper attribution do nothing to alleviate the concerns of students and their families; they only fuel the rumor fire. We agree with the editorial’s premise: The budget situation is beyond unacceptable. It is harmful to education, social services, health care, etc. And our state legislators are aware of our concerns and needs. We have been a vocal, steady presence in Springfield.

Recently, Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas sent a letter to the university community to address rumors, as these inaccuracies damage the institution. Western Illinois University will remain open. We are actively recruiting students, accepting applications, and planning for the future.

Darcie Shinberger

Assistant Vice President, Advancement & Public Services

Director, University Relations

Macomb

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May 26, 2017 at 11:10AM

Letter: WIU will remain open

Voters take out anger on ‘dirt bag’ lawmakers over budget impasse

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SPRINGFIELD — Minutes after state Sen. Toi Hutchinson helped to pass a controversial revenue bill that was met with major Republican resistance, she was inundated with harsh words on her Facebook page.

“No more takes [sic] you dirt bags stop screwing the taxpayers!!!!!!!!” one Facebook user wrote.

“How dare you raise my taxes in this corrupt state. You are ruining people’s lives with your tax and spend ways. I literally hate you,” another person wrote.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson said she has been getting lots of negative comments on Facebook. | Screenshot

Illinois lawmakers — many of whom face uncertain re-election possibilities next year — are being inundated by comments, insults and suggestions as the clock ticks toward the end of the legislative session amid a historic and politically driven budget impasse that’s left the state in the lurch.

State universities and social service agencies haven’t received funds since Jan. 1 when a partial budget expired.

Lawmakers say constituents are amping up the pressure to stop the bleeding.

“People are so angry. And if they’re not impacted by any of the hard stuff, they zero in on the things that they hate the most. It’s in the midst of the environment that we’re in. It’s the . . . trash comments and the people who try to hijack my Facebook page,” Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said. “Go to my state Facebook page. Just take a look. It is cruel, absolutely cruel.”

Hutchinson said she receives “constant” calls about MAP college grants. She represents Governors State University, Kankakee Community College and Prairie State College.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson said she has been getting lots of negative comments on Facebook. | Screenshot

“Not only did the lack of MAP grants wreak havoc over these institutions, but I can’t tell you how many calls I get from people who say ‘I can’t finish this semester,’” Hutchinson said.

In Democratic State Sen. Heather Stean’s 7th district, which encompasses North Side and Northwest Side Chicago neighborhoods, a non-profit plans in June to close some of its facilities that help take care of people with disabilities and mental-health issues if there’s no budget. Another organization which helps to provide shelter for domestic-violence victims called to tell her they’re planning layoffs because they haven’t been able to pay employees all year.

Despite this, Steans says her constituents aren’t paying attention to the barbs being thrown in the political war between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. They just care about the results of it.

“I think people are really frustrated and fed up and to some extent don’t even know what to do with the fact that we don’t have a budget. I don’t think they want to hear about the pointing and blaming. They want us to all step up and do our job,” Steans said.

State Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Westmont, says his constituents are largely calling, emailing and stopping by to complain about their property taxes.

“Nobody is happy. The constituents I represent, they don’t care about scoring political points and so they don’t think it’s good when you make a good argument or when we really stick it to the speaker or the Democrats,” Nybo said. “They just want to see things get done. They’re practical people. . . . I don’t think they’re going to put up with it anymore.”

At baseball, games, hockey games, and when he’s dropping his kids off to school, State Rep. Michael McAuliffe, D- Chicago, said he’s hearing it all.

“They’re telling me how desperate they are, in my suburban areas as well as the city. They’re at wits’ ends. They don’t know what else to do,” McAuliffe said.

Constituents are asking for cuts, not new taxes, McAuliffe says. And many on fixed incomes are worrying if they’ll lose their homes: “Someone who lives in the city of Chicago, last year they saw their water rates go up. They saw a garbage tax. Everywhere you look there’s a new tax. And they’re squeezed all the way to the end.”

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, says he’s getting an earful, too.

“People don’t understand why we’re not funding social-service agencies and higher education,” McSweeney said, adding he’s receiving calls about the Pioneer Center for Human Services in McHenry County. “There is no good explanation.”

He’s also hearing complaints from school superintendents worried about whether their schools will be properly funded. And they ask some political questions too.

“People ask me, ‘Why hasn’t the governor been meeting with the leaders?’” McSweeney said. “I don’t have a good answer.”

House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, D-Skokie, says he’s getting calls from parents of high school students asking whether they should send their kids to an Illinois school or out-of-state.

“It’s hard to give them an answer when we treat higher education the way that we do,” Lang said.

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May 26, 2017 at 12:21PM

Voters take out anger on ‘dirt bag’ lawmakers over budget impasse

IVCC to reduce operating costs

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Illinois Valley Community College’s is expected to reduce operating costs 3.7 percent next year, members of the board’s audit-finance committee learned Tuesday night.

“We have reduced operating costs and used zero-based budgeting to the point where there are few areas to make reductions other than in personnel,” said Vice President for Business Services and Finance Cheryl Roelfsema.

Since 2012, IVCC has reduced personnel costs by about $1.5 million by not filling 33 vacancies following resignations and retirements, she said.

The last time it passed a budget in 2015, the state appropriated IVCC $2.7 million. The $21.4 million 2018 operating budget anticipates just 50 percent of that appropriation or about $1.3 million.

“We will work with budget officers over the next six months on an expenditure plan should state funding fall below 50 percent,” Roelfsema said.

Zero-based budgeting is a method of accounting in which all expenses must be justified and start from a “zero base,” Roelfsema said, adding, every line item is analyzed for its needs and costs.

The college anticipates the current budget ending June 30 will have a deficit of $305,000, which will be covered by reserves.

“It is a credit to staff, faculty and our board that for two years we have carefully monitored spending and reduced costs while continuing to provide high-quality education and services to our students,” said President Jerry Corcoran.

The full board will review the tentative budget at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 13.

Audit-finance also reviewed the Information Technology Services strategic plan for 2017-20 that includes expansion of the virtual desktop initiative, website redesign and enhanced document imaging.

In other business, the committee:

  • Heard from Gary Gauger of Midwest Energy regarding potential savings in electricity purchasing. If IVCC contracted with MidAmerican (also known as Homefield Energy) or Constellation Energy, the college could save up to $8,500 per year, Gauger said.
  • Learned dual credit enrollment continues to account for about 10 percent of overall enrollment. The Free and Reduced Lunch waiver generated additional credit hours and provided access to college for a greater number of capable students. Students qualifying for the Free and Reduced Lunch in district high schools took 678 credit hours over the two semesters combined.

The full board meets next at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 8.










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May 24, 2017 at 03:14AM

IVCC to reduce operating costs

Our View: Unacceptable

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That one word perfectly sums up the pain, dysfunction and instability Capitol politicians have inflicted on Illinois by their failure to provide a permanent balanced state budget for two years.

As the state’s credit ratings have been repeatedly downgraded, as residents sought greener pastures elsewhere, as community colleges and universities have been gutted, as businesses closed up shop and as social service agencies turned away the most vulnerable residents … elected officials have failed to do their job and show political courage to make the necessary painful decisions.

Who they blame is determined by whether a D or R follows their name. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is to blame. No, it’s Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Don’t forget the decades of politicians who made terrible financial decisions based on what would get them re-elected, not what was fiscally prudent.

The finger-pointing has gone on for far too long.

The state’s fiscal problems have created a crisis throughout Illinois — except in the state Capitol. Maybe the dome deflects the misery that permeates the rest of Illinois. But it can no longer shield elected officials from accepting the blame each member of the House and Senate, and the governor, bears for the atrocious state of the state.

The stack of unpaid bills climbed above $14 billion last week. The 2016 fiscal year, which ended last June, had a budgetary deficit of $9.6 billion; we shudder to think of what it’s going to be at the end of next month. The five state-funded pension systems are short about $130 billion. Each new financial report paints an even bleaker picture.

Still, every time progress seemed to have been made this year, it faded as quickly as it emerged because the need for a political win was more important. Because most Illinoisans have not been directly inconvenienced by the lack of a budget, it’s been easy to ignore.

But the impasse affects all of us. In order for the state to pay off its unpaid bills, shore up the pension systems and eliminate its deficit, it would cost every man, woman and child who lives in Illinois roughly $12,000 each.

Here’s how you calculate your share of the bill:

  • If every one of the state’s 12.8 million residents kicked in $1,094, we could pay off the $14 billion in unpaid bills.
  • The unfunded pension liability is an estimated $130 billion, due over the next 30 years. If we wanted to ensure today that it will be solvent, each resident would need to contribute $10,156 so state retirees will get their retirement benefits.
  • Don’t forget the $9.6 billion structural budget deficit at the end of fiscal year 2016; add in $750 more per person.

The ugly truth is, we are all going to pay for it somehow. And because politicians have abdicated their most basic duty for two years, the necessary cuts will be deeper and tax hikes will be higher than they should be.

Good. Now get informed on issues, and encourage others to do the same. There’s a reason that millions get spent on relentlessly nasty political ads — they work. They sway the casual voter who doesn’t care enough to dig for facts, or they leave others too disgusted by the spectacle and negativity to participate. Elections shouldn’t be decided by who can throw the most cash at attack ads. It’s up to all of us to keep that from being the determinant.

Next, get involved. Pick up your phone and call your state representative, senator and the governor’s office. Tell them how they have made it an embarrassment to be from Illinois. Share your anger that the significant issues that need attention — school funding reform, creating a thriving economy and building public universities into centers of innovation, to name a few — have been ignored.

A year ago we declared “Enough.” The day after, the governor and lawmakers passed a six-month stopgap spending plan that did not provide lasting stability. That’s not good enough.

It’s time to demand that Governor Rauner and our lawmakers do what is right. It’s time for the budget to come first. To not do so will cement their legacy with one word that encapsulates the sorry condition of our state.

Our View: Time to take action

If you don’t depend on the state for health care, social services or for business, it can be easy to ignore the nearly budget impasse that has created the sorry state Illinois is in.

But it’s reached the point where that cannot continue: The gridlock will endure unless residents become engaged in the political process. It is time to sound the alarm on how dire the situation is and how much worse the costs will become the longer Illinois does not have a permanent spending plan.

We want you to be informed. We want you to ask questions and demand better when a politician’s answer is to blame the other party.

More importantly, we want you to take action.

Here’s how to contact the governor, House and Senate leaders and your local senators and representatives. We encourage you to reach out to any and all of these politicians to express your frustration.

We have even included a “postcard” that you can clip, copy and send to the politicians who represent you.

Illinois’ current fiscal state is unacceptable. It’s time we demand our elected officials did something about it.

It’s time to demand a change. Tell our elected officials it’s time to get to work:

State officers

207 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0244;

House Speaker Michael Madigan

300 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-5350.

Senate President John Cullerton

327 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-2728.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno

309G Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-9407

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin

316 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0494

103A Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-6216.

Bloomington district office: 2203 Eastland Drive, Suite 3; (309) 664-4440.

119A Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0228.

Decatur district office: Macon County Building, 141 S. Main St.; (217) 429-8110.

103C Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-5755.

Vandalia district office: 310 W. Gallatin; (618) 283-3000.

309M Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-6674.

Mattoon district office: 88 Broadway Ave., Suite 1; (217) 235-6033.

108E Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 558-1006.

Decatur district office: 5130 Hickory Point Frontage Road, Suite 103; (217) 330-9356.

227N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8071.

Litchfield district office: 301 N. Monroe; (217) 324-5200.

1128E Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0053.

205N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-0066.

Salem district office: 1370 W. Main St., Suite A; (618) 548-9080.

204N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8398.

Shelbyville district office: 203 N. Cedar St.; (217) 774-1306.

632 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-8163.

Decatur district office: 5130 Hickory Point Frontage Road, Suite 100; (217) 876-1968.

200-1N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 558-1040.

632 Capitol Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 782-2087.

Olney district office: 219 E. Main; (618) 392-0108.

E-2 Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706; (217) 524-0353.

Decatur district office, 1301 E. Mound Road Suite 270, (217) 877-9636.

The lack of a state budget for nearly two years has made it embarrassing to be from Illinois.

The self-created crisis by politicians has caused a huge deficit that is accompanied by an even larger stack of unpaid bills. It has harmed the most vulnerable of the state’s residents, crippled our higher education system and caused businesses to hesitate to plan for the future.

I’m tired of our politicians putting their party first. Please work in a bipartisan manner to pass a permanent balanced state budget for Illinois.

To not do so is unacceptable.

Don’t miss another special section.








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May 23, 2017 at 12:14PM

Our View: Unacceptable