Rauner: Madigan manipulating university leaders in funding crisis

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Gov. Bruce Rauner announces his support for bipartisan proposals to fund higher education and MAP grants. February 29, 2016. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday pushed blame for the state’s higher education funding crisis onto House Speaker Michael Madigan — accusing him of manipulating leadership at state universities to withhold support of Rauner-backed solutions.

Rauner supports a bill sponsored by Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) to provide $160 million in emergency funding to universities, and invited several university presidents to stand with him at a press conference.

They declined, rather than anger Madigan, who wants to keep the budget impasse-triggered crisis alive as political leverage in the upcoming primary, charged Rauner.

“There are real solutions available to us to solve the higher education funding crisis. We have a bipartisan bill to fund our universities right now that I can support. Madigan won’t call the bill,” Rauner complained.

Rauner vetoed a Madigan-backed bill to provide $721 million for higher education and MAP grants for low-income students.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Reggie Phillips (R-Charleston), Art Turner (D-Chicago) and LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), would additionally provide $40 million for community colleges. But it’s unlikely any bill sponsored by Dunkin — shunned by Democrats for siding with Republicans in a showdown with Rauner — will make it to a vote.

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Rauner charged the president of beleaguered Chicago State and those of Northeastern Illinois and Eastern Illinois universities are playing puppet to Madigan.

“Folks at Northeastern said they had been instructed never to step out and support any legislation that hadn’t been proposed by Madigan, not to support any other solutions to a problem unless the Speaker blessed it,” Rauner said.

“I personally talked to [CSU] President Tom Calhoun Saturday. I said let’s do a press conference supporting this bill. We can get cash right now to Chicago State. He told me he’d been instructed not to step out with any political leader to discuss any legislation until primaries are over,” said Rauner.

“That morning he had been part of a press conference calling my veto of the unfunded $720 million bill an outrage, then turned around and told me he couldn’t stand with me to come up with a real solution,” Rauner complained. “I don’t blame him. His director of communications is one of Mike Madigan’s patronage guys. He can’t do anything the Speaker hasn’t authorized.”

Northeastern and Chicago State officialsdenied Madigan influenced decisions of their presidents. Eastern declined to comment.

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