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Rauner: Chicago State ‘outrage’ is Democrats’ fault

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters on the Wednesday, March 30, 2016, at the State of Illinois Central Computing Facility in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

A day after Chicago State University employees were told to turn in their keys, Gov. Bruce Rauner accused Democrats of dragging out the budget crisis to try to force a tax hike.

At a news conference in Springfield on Wednesday, Rauner called the CSU situation “an outrage” and pointed his finger at the Democrats.

“It should never happen. There’s really no excuse for it. I believe that the supermajority in the Legislature is using Chicago State University and many other service providers in Illinois as leverage to try to force a massive tax hike. I believe that’s what’s going on, and that’s wrong,” Rauner said.

Administrators at Chicago State this week issued a demand to all employees to turn in all keys to campus facilities by next week as an April 30 date for layoffs to begin looms.

On Wednesday, though, the university backtracked, announcing that it would take an inventory of keys that might have to be collected should layoffs be necessary amid the state’s financial crisis.

Administrator Aleshia Renee Terry had asked deans on Monday to begin collecting keys as soon as possible. The school said then the move was necessary to protect state property.

However, university spokesman Tom Wogan said the key matter was “clarified” in a meeting that university President Thomas Calhoun held Wednesday with administrators to discuss the key request. Department heads were asked to take an inventory of keys held by employees.

“There was some confusion over what the directives were,” said Wogan, who previously acknowledged the university may need to “execute a significant number of layoffs at the end of April.”

The university is just one of the victims in a budget battle between Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders who have yet to find funding for the state’s 12 public universities and many state programs.

While Rauner signed a bill to fund K-12 education, he vetoed a budget last year that was $4 billion short and would have provided funding for higher education.

Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, said Rauner’s statements show he’s not taking any responsibility for the lack of funding for higher education.

Rauner vetoed an appropriations bill for higher education while contending the state doesn’t have enough money. He’s also argued that state colleges and universities are overspending on administrative costs.

“The governor is ignoring the fact that the reason the higher education disaster is occurring is because he vetoed that appropriations bill. He claimed to be in support of education, and yet he left them high and dry. And that’s devastating,” Brown said.

Rauner also accused Madigan of ignoring his staff’s phone calls in the weeks prior to the primary.

“We have not yet received a date from the speaker on when he would be willing to meet to discuss that,” Rauner said, adding it will take a one-on-one meeting with the speaker to get some compromises accomplished.

But Brown denied that his office has ignored Rauner administration calls. He said a Rauner staffer had contacted a Madigan staffer and requested a dinner meeting to talk about the budget. But no date had ever been set.

But Rauner says there’s a way to fix higher education funding that would give $160 million to universities and $40 million to community colleges using special funds.

“There’s an answer. It’s been put forward. It should be called to a vote, and it should pass,” Rauner said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Contributing: AP