Voice of The Southern: Plenty of budget blame to go around

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Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar stirred the state’s already roiled political waters last week with his comments at a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute event on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus.

Speaking of the budget impasse that has paralyzed the state for nearly two years, Edgar committed the Republican version of heresy by granting partial absolution to House Speaker Mike Madigan. The former Republican governor said Madigan should be “maligned a little bit” but he has been “overly maligned.”

As can be expected in the hyper-partisan atmosphere that engulfs Illinois, it seems Edgar’s comments are being taken out of context — by virtually everyone.

Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago, has served as Speaker of the House for 32 years.

During election years, Madigan is portrayed by virtually every Republican running for office as the evil twin of Darth Vader or Voldemort. We saw denunciations of the speaker in ads run by local GOP candidates.

To be fair, Democratic candidates similarly accused their opponents of being controlled by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The reactions to Edgar’s comments remind us of a favorite device used by political cartoonists. In one frame, a politician is shown speaking on the stump. In the second frame, the crowd is depicted hearing something completely different.

What Edgar said is Mike Madigan is not the lone villain in the budget impasse. We believe that to be true.

Conversely, not being the villain isn’t the same as being the hero. That is an important distinction that, sadly, needs to be made in Illinois today, when battle lines are so clearly drawn. Quite frankly, there aren’t many heroes when it comes to the state’s budget impasse.

That is why we appreciate Edgar’s candor. When is the last time you saw a politician’s name and the word candor in the same sentence?

This is not an attempt to canonize Edgar by any means. It should be noted that the basis of today’s budget crisis — unfunded pensions throughout the state — had roots in the Edgar administration.

But, Edgar’s comments did break the bonds of partisanship, which is odd considering the issues facing the state. And, Illinois will not return to financial health as long as Republicans and Democrats would rather point fingers at each other than sit down and hash things out.

Gov. Rauner has certainly not lived up to his end of the bargain — by law, the governor is supposed to present a balanced budget to the legislature.

That obviously hasn’t happened.

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In the meantime, the Democrats punted an opportunity to make political hay. Why haven’t they submitted budget plans to the governor and forced his hand?

To the Republicans who went to Congress vowing to knock Madigan from power, take the cue from Edgar. That’s not the battle that needs to be fought right now. The most important thing here is to do what is right for the people of Illinois moving forward.

For Democrats insistent on proving Gov. Rauner is in over his head, just quit. Stop it, because it’s getting old. Simply punting the ball back into enemy territory isn’t a winning strategy. You have the majority in both the House and the Senate. It’s time to take advantage of it.

The budget impasse is nearly two years old. There have been rumblings that a solution might be on the horizon. Of course, we’ve heard that before, so we’re not holding our breath.

But, the 2018 election will be rolling around soon. Gov. Rauner is past the mid-point of his term and has not had a budget for nearly two years. In our book, that’s not a winning platform.

We realize it is cynical to think political pressure may finally be the cudgel to break this stalemate, but that beats the status quo.

Voice of The Southern: Plenty of budget blame to go around

Slowik: GSU has no plans to add Quinn likeness to Hall of Governors

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A portrait of former Gov. Pat Quinn was unveiled Monday in the Hall of Governors at the state Capitol in Springfield.

There are no plans, however, to add a formal likeness of Quinn any time soon to the Hall of Governors at Governors State University in south suburban University Park, a school representative said.

That’s too bad. I think it’s a shame a decent public servant like Quinn won’t be recognized alongside 39 other past Illinois governors dating back to the first, Shadrach Bond, who served from 1818 to 1822.

Walking through the Hall of Governors at GSU is like stepping back in time, in more ways than one. One can learn about local connections to state history, like how the name of a south suburban community was inspired by Gov. Joel Aldrich Matteson, who served from 1853 to 1857.

The beautiful bronze reliefs of past state leaders include Richard James Oglesby, who served three terms: from 1865 to 1869, in 1873, and from 1885 to 1889. There’s a city in LaSalle County named after Oglesby.

Some fine people have served as Illinois governor. There’s John Peter Altgeld, who some view as a champion of liberty and justice.

Altgeld pardoned some men he felt received unfair trials when they were convicted for murder in connection with the 1886 Haymarket Riot. The Chicago Housing Authority’s Altgeld Gardens public housing complex is named in his honor.

Altgeld was controversial. Conservatives hated him. Some called him an anarchist for pardoning labor union activists.

Others who served more recently are honored with public facilities named after them. Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who served from 1949 to 1953, is the namesake for a stretch of I-55 we all know from daily traffic reports as the Stevenson Expressway.

In Morris, you can visit William G. Stratton State Park, named after the 32nd governor. Stratton served from 1953 to 1961 and is credited with building the state’s interstate highways.

GSU’s Hall of Governors is filled with portraits of men who stood for principles and built things. Not all of them upheld the public trust. The hall includes a portrait of George Ryan, who gained international attention for a 1999 moratorium on executions and who commuted more than 160 death sentences to life sentences.

Ryan was later convicted of federal corruption charges and served more than five years in prison for his role in the “Licenses for Bribes” scandal involving his earlier tenure as Illinois secretary of state.

The scandal and conviction tarnished Ryan’s legacy and reputation. I’ll be surprised if any highways, public buildings, towns or state parks are named after Ryan. Yet despite his flaws, he was governor, and he’s included in the Hall of Governors at GSU.

Ryan, however, may be the last state leader to have his portrait included in GSU’s Hall of Governors. The hall, itself, might be considered a time capsule because it chronicles the service of governors from 1818 through 2003 and may never again be updated.

“We’ve not updated the gallery in the Hall of Governors since Ryan, and updating has not been a topic of discussion under the current budget circumstances,” Keisha Dyson, GSU assistant vice president for marketing and communications, said in response to my inquiry.

In 2010, GSU was asked whether a likeness of Rod Blagojevich would be added to the Hall of Governors. This was more than a year after the General Assembly impeached Blagojevich following his 2008 arrest by federal agents.

Blagojevich, who appeared on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” after leaving office, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was convicted in 2011 of misusing his powers as governor in an array of wrongdoing, including most notably his attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after his 2008 election as president, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Blagojevich is the only former governor who does not have an official portrait in the state Capitol in Springfield.

Seven years ago, GSU said there were no plans at the time to include Blagojevich in its Hall of Governors because of financial constraints. That explanation deftly allowed the school to skirt the need to debate whether Blagojevich’s accomplishments outweighed his faults.

Apparently, once you gain entry to the Hall of Governors, you’re in for good, as Ryan’s bronze portrait still hangs on the wall, despite his corruption conviction.

But entry into the club is another matter of debate. In Springfield, one can conclude that no official portrait of Blagojevich will be added any time soon. Now that Quinn’s in the club, I suppose impeachment is the bar by which entry is measured.

I feel bad for GSU. I think it’s a fine school, and it’s unfortunate that administrators or the board of trustees of the public university might one day have to wrestle with the question of whether to add Blagojevich and Quinn to its Hall of Governors.

I understand GSU’s current position that because the state’s ongoing financial crisis has decimated funding for public universities, contributing to elimination of academic programs and enrollment declines, now is hardly the time to consider spending public funds to create a portrait of an official.

But what if cost was no consideration? What if Quinn provided private funds, as he did for his official portrait in Springfield?

Adding Quinn and not Blagojevich would seem to settle the question about excluding potential members from the club for unethical behavior.

Then again, questions remain about Quinn’s conduct while he was governor. A recent report by a court-appointed watchdog charged with looking into patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation detailed how top Democrats used clout to help friends and relatives get government jobs during Quinn’s administration, the Tribune reported.

Some might think it better to wait until questions about Quinn’s conduct are resolved before giving serious consideration to adding his likeness to GSU’s Hall of Governors.

One hopes current Gov. Bruce Rauner learns from the mistakes of his predecessors and refrains from any unethical behavior. Rauner has deep pockets, too, having put $50 million of his own money into his 2018 re-election campaign. He could easily afford to pay for his bronze bust, if GSU ever wanted to add him..

Slowik: GSU has no plans to add Quinn likeness to Hall of Governors

Poshard steps away from college post two months in

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WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. • After just more than two months on the job, former congressman and Southern Illinois University president Glenn Poshard has resigned as president of Morthland College here.

Poshard said he tendered his resignation April 26 through a letter to college founder Tim Morthland, effective immediately.

As for his reasons for leaving his post, Poshard read the following statement:

“I believe strongly in the vision and the mission of Morthland College and the opportunity it provides in offering students a faith-based, Christian education, however there are serious issues — both personnel and financial — of which I was not notified when I began as president, and which, I concluded, could only be resolved by an authority other than myself.”

However, Leigh Caldwell, public relations and marketing director for Morthland College, said college officials were given other reasons for Poshard stepping down.

“He resigned for health reasons, that is what he told us,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell confirmed that an emergency meeting was called after Poshard presented the letter, during which the board asked Morthland to return as president. He accepted.

Caldwell was unsure how long Morthland would be in the position.

“I am certain at some point there will be a leadership change,” she said. “I don’t know how quickly that will come.”

She said the decision was quick because they needed someone to fill the leadership role.

This is the last week of regular classes at Morthland with finals next week. Commencement will be May 13.

“We are finishing out the semester and things are fine,” Caldwell said.

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Poshard steps away from college post two months in

Illinois Weighing Down National Higher Ed Spending Numbers

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A new national report blames Illinois for weighing down overall higher education funding numbers by a full 5 percent. (Chicago Tonight)

The impact of Illinois’ budget stalemate on higher education within the state’s borders has been well documented (go here and here for examples), but a new study shows just how much the impasse has affected national numbers as well.

Overall state and local government support for higher education across the country fell by $130 per student in 2016, the first time that figure failed to grow in four years. And the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association – a national group of postsecondary education advocates – puts blame for that decline squarely on the shoulders of the Prairie State.

“Overall support fell by 1.8 percent per full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment in inflation adjusted terms,” SHEEO says in its April report, “but would have increased by 3.2 percent if not for Illinois, which cut its support by a staggering 80 percent.”

Put simply, Illinois is solely responsible weighing down overall higher education funding numbers after dropping its per-student spending from nearly $11,000 in 2015 down to $2,196 last year.

That average across all 50 states fell from $7,082 per student to $6,954 over the same period.

Read the full SHEEO report here.

Illinois had, in recent years, actually seen one of the greatest increases among all states in higher education spending, according to the report, jumping from $7,265 per student in 2011 to $10,986 in 2015.

But after last year’s stopgap budget decimated that support, the state is now looking at the largest decrease in educational provisions in the country.

On top of 2016’s funding decline, overall enrollment also fell for the fifth straight year, dropping to 11.1 million FTE students. Again, Illinois led the charge on that front with an 11 percent enrollment reduction – or 46,000 FTE students – which made up more than half of the nationwide decline, according to the report.

The numbers here were so extreme that in many charts included in the report, SHEEO showed calculations both for the nation as a whole as well as for “U.S. excluding Illinois.”

The group’s annual report looks at both state and local funding sources, along with tuition and enrollment trends to gauge overall funding changes. This year, SHEEO says state contributions to higher education fell to $90 billion. That total stood closer to $91 billion in 2015.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan met last week for the first time in 2017 to discuss possible solutions to the state’s nearly two-year long budget impasse. At the same time, college students joined with professors and union leaders to protest in Springfield, carrying signs that read “Hey Bruce Do Your Job So That We Can Do Ours.”

“Governor Rauner understands and is gravely concerned about the severe financial challenges facing our students, colleges and universities and that is why he is working every day to find consensus on a budget that is truly balanced, and ensure the state’s higher education system thrives in the long-term,” Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis said in a statement, adding that Rauner won’t endorse a budget unless it addresses long-term pension reform.

While Illinois may be weighing down the national numbers, it’s not the only state that reduced funding in 2016. According to the report, 17 states limited higher education support last year, while 33 states increased their totals. But even that number is down from the 40 states that increased funding in 2015.

The average amount of per-student funding is also 17 percent below where it stood in 2008 and only five states currently provide more funding than they did nearly a decade ago.

“The fact that 17 states reduced support in 2016 compared to 10 in 2015 and the very real cuts that higher education is facing this year in many states suggest that there will be more pressure in the future on colleges and universities to cut budgets and on students and families to pay more in tuition,” Iowa Board of Regents Executive Director Bob Donley said in a press release.

Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @ByMattMasterson


Related stories:

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April 17: Nine out of 10 social services agencies said they were unable to raise 25 percent or more of the funding owed to them by the state, according to a new survey.


Lawmakers_0411.jpg2018 Race for Governor Heats Up, But Still No Budget from Springfield

April 11: Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle weigh in on the latest developments in Springfield.


Moodys_0330.jpgMoody’s Predicts Doom If Illinois Doesn’t Pass Budget by Spring

March 30: Reports from credit ratings agencies aren’t typically considered thrilling reads. But the latest one from Moody’s is so ominous, it ought to give taxpayers, or at least state lawmakers elected to represent them, the shivers.


Illinois Weighing Down National Higher Ed Spending Numbers

Financial kneecapping of state universities means Rauner must act

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Congratulations, everybody! Illinois now has five public universities with junk bond credit ratings. That has to be some kind of record.

Last week, S&P Global Ratings lowered the credit score of both Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University into junk bond status. Eastern, Northeastern and Governor’s State were already in junk bond territory and their ratings were lowered even further last week. The University of Illinois, the state’s flagship, was also downgraded to just three notches above junk status and, like all the other universities, put on a “credit watch with negative implications,” meaning it could be downgraded again within the next 90 days.

All of the downgrade reports noted that none of the universities have received any funds since their partial “stopgap” appropriation in June of last year. The reports also seemed to advocate for another stopgap funding bill this fiscal year.

For instance, while noting in the U of I’s report that a stopgap had been passed last year to cover the first six months of this fiscal year, S&P went on to write: “the state has yet to pass a budget for fiscal 2017 and has not conclusively communicated plans for stop-gap funding to support the state’s public higher education institutions.”

As you may know, Gov. Bruce Rauner and his legislative Republicans are adamantly opposed to another temporary stopgap budget that would use existing special state funds that are currently piling up in bank accounts to help out struggling universities, college students and human service providers and recipients.

Their argument is that distributing the money would take the pressure off everyone to pass a real budget with the governor’s demanded reforms. At the same time, Rauner and GOP legislators want to take state employees out of the “pressure” equation with a continuing appropriation, which means those salaries would essentially be funded throughout eternity. But since the lack of funding for social services and higher education over the past two years hasn’t spurred anyone in Springfield to action, it might be that only an actual government shutdown after state employees can’t come to work will actually move the needle.

“If state operating appropriations are received in fiscal 2017,” S&P declared in its SIU downgrade report, “we will incorporate the impact of those appropriations at that time,” suggesting that some money thrown at the universities via a stopgap plan could forestall another immediate ratings downgrade.

Junk status means many investment institutions, like pension funds, cannot buy those bonds. So, while the state hobbles the universities by refusing to make full appropriations, it’s also undermining their ability to borrow at semi-reasonable rates. Speculators looking for relatively high returns on bonds that have to be repaid will gladly buy those bonds and rake in the dough. Meanwhile, precious dollars that the universities cannot afford to spend have to be used to make higher interest payments. It’s a horrific fiscal cycle and, in our case, it’s completely man-made.

It could take our universities a decade or more to recover from these body blows. At the very least, we need a stopgap budget now and then a full, “real” budget before the beginning of next fiscal year.

The governor is currently running all over the state proclaiming to anyone who will listen that a deal is “very close.” He said at an Elk Grove Village event last week that “a big comprehensive package” was being prepared. Democrats say they have no idea what he’s talking about.

Rauner had better be right because, even though the Democratic Party has its own dirty hands here, the governor is the state’s chief executive, so he will wear the jacket for failure. He’s come up with excuse after excuse for more than two years now for why he can’t get a budget passed, or even why he won’t propose his own balanced budget. No more.

And if you dig a little deeper at those S&P reports, you’ll see that the ratings agency had some very specific warnings for state government as well.

Illinois’ credit rating is just barely above junk status. And S&P warned in several of its downgrades that the universities could be in for a “multinotch downgrade” if the state’s rating is lowered. Another downgrade report warned that there was “at least a one-in-two likelihood of a rating change within the next 90 days,” more than implying that action against the state’s credit rating could happen soon.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

Financial kneecapping of state universities means Rauner must act

Tom Kacich: University presidents help make sense of nonsense

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Kudos to the public university presidents in Illinois who have become so good at debunking the bunk politicians are spewing.

A couple of examples from last week:

— Gov. Duct Tape says it upsets him to see so many Illinoisans leave the state to attend college, but he hasn’t done much about it except to propose a phony, unbalanced budget while hitting Democrats for supporting phony, unbalanced budgets.

Increasing money to the Monetary Award Program that helps low-income students attend college would help the state in many ways, said Illinois State University President Larry Dietz.

“We had a net loss of 16,000 students last fall who went to school out of state. An enhancement of the MAP program might have kept some of those folks in state,” said Dietz. “Imagine if we kept just half of those 16,000 students. Just think what 8,000 students would have done for all the institutions in the state. 16,000 who left means conservatively $10,00 in tuition and fees that is crossing the state line. That’s $160 million a year.”

The bigger loss, he said, isn’t financial.

“The biggest issue around the leaving is the human capital and the intellectual capacity that those individuals take with them. If you go out of state you reduce dramatically the probability that person returning in state to start their business, serve a not for profit, whatever that might be. You may never get that human capacity back. That to me is the worst part of all of this.”

— The governor says we need procurement reform and other changes in higher education before we can talk about increasing funding.

Dietz cited examples of how procurement reform would help his institution, but he questioned whether it would save much money. The governor and some Republicans have pegged the savings at $500 million a year.

“I don’t know that procurement reform ultimately will save a ton of money. There have been estimates as to what it might save but those are only estimates and I don’t think any of us know,” said Dietz.

“Ultimately it could save us some money because we won’t have so many staff involved in that process on our campus. But I do know we would be more efficient and we would be more on time and it would be a better way of doing business.”

— Gov. Duct Tape says we have to “grow the economy” with all his reforms including term limits, an idea that even his allies acknowledge has nothing to with fixing the economy.

Eastern Illinois University President Davis Glassman, without referring to the governor by name, said there “has been much talk of growth needing to be a major element” of the changes the state needs.

“EIU agrees wholeheartedly and we would point out that our greatest opportunity for growth as a state will be through supporting the personal growth of our more than 12 million residents,” as in improving Illinois by investing in Illinoisans, he said.

“We take students from all backgrounds and circumstances and help them identify where they can make the most significant contributions,” said Glassman. “We then train them and arm them with the analytical skills necessary to improve not only their own circumstances but those of their communities and beyond.”

Chris Kennedy endorsement

Iroquois County Democrats are already on board with former University of Illinois board chairman Chris Kennedy as their party’s nominee for governor in 2018.

The party’s central committee endorsed Kennedy last Tuesday — more than 11 months before the March 20 primary election.

“It was the initiative of the people on the committee,” said Dale Strough, party chairman. “Even though it is early in the campaign I think we have a pretty good idea of the field, who is running and the basic information and who we think is the best candidate.”

Strough said there was discussion about making the unusually early endorsement, “but in the end it was unanimously approved.”

Kennedy, a wealthy Kenilworth businessman and the son of Bobby Kennedy, has not met with the Iroquois County Democrats, Strough said.

Party functions

— Economist Stephen Moore, a graduate of the University of Illinois, will be the guest speaker at Wednesday’s Champaign County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner.

Moore is the distinguished visiting fellow at the Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation, and is a frequent television commentator.

He took a leave from the Heritage Foundation and worked on the Trump campaign last year and will talk about his time on the campaign trail and his thoughts on the Trump presidency.

Tickets for the event, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, are $60 for dinner or $120 for dinner and a VIP reception.

— Champaign County Democrats will hold a spring luncheon beginning at 1 p.m. April 30 at the I-Hotel in Champaign.

Democratic Party Chair Maryam Ar-Raheem said only one speaker is confirmed — 13th Congressional District candidate David Gill — but that she’s hoping a number of Democratic gubernatorial candidates and any other congressional contenders show as well.

“Everything right now is tentative,” she said.

Tickets for the event are now $37.50, but increase to $50 after Monday.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sunday and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

Tom Kacich: University presidents help make sense of nonsense

Western Illinois University President addresses recent rumors

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Western Illinois University President address recent facility rumors (file photos)

Macomb, Illinois — 

On Friday, Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas released a statement addressing recent statements made about the University.

Read his full statement below:

Dear University Community,

In light of recent inaccurate statements made by individuals unaffiliated with Western Illinois University, there are numerous rumors circulating about our institution.

I understand there continues to be increased apprehension as the Illinois budget stalemate is in its second year. However, the misstatements about the University are false and serve only to harm our institution. We have not declared financial emergency and Western Illinois University will remain open.

Our mission to provide a quality education will endure. Registration for both Summer and Fall 2017 is underway and summer orientation sessions are scheduled. We are actively recruiting students, accepting applications, and planning ahead for future semesters.

We have been fiscally conservative for a number of years, and that, along with the prudent decisions we have made thus far, is keeping our University moving forward. We will continue to serve and provide our students with a quality education. We remain focused, committed to excellence, and engaged in planning for the future.

Rest assured, we are not sitting quietly in the background. We will continue to have a strong voice in Springfield and beyond about the importance of adequate funding for Western Illinois University and for public higher education. We also continue to do our very best to make thoughtful, well informed, and strategic decisions that will serve our University community and preserve our institution’s integrity, mission, and tradition.

In the event that budgetary decisions are made that affect members of the University community, we will continue to share information in a timely manner, as has been our practice.

Sincerely,

Jack Thomas, Ph.D.

President

Western Illinois University

Western Illinois University President addresses recent rumors