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SPRINGFIELD — In a rare showing of bipartisan cooperation amid Illinois’ nearly yearlong budget impasse, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Friday to approve $600 million in “stopgap” funding for higher education.

The House voted 106-2 and the Senate voted 55-0 to approve the measure, which includes money for public universities, community colleges and grants to low-income students through the Monetary Award Program, all which have been deprived of funding since the budget year began July 1. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration lauded the agreement and promised his signature.

With Chicago State University on the brink of closing at month’s end, lawmakers were under pressure to come up with a plan to get money to the predominantly black South Side school and other financially beleaguered institutions, including Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Northeastern Illinois universities.

“What we did today was a very good thing,” said Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, chairwoman of the House Black Caucus and a sponsor of the funding package. “We actually did save CSU.”

She added that Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois, along with many community colleges, are also struggling.

Chicago State will get 60 percent the funding it received in fiscal year 2015, and the state’s eight other university systems will get 31 percent.

That amounts to $12.5 million for Eastern Illinois, $20.9 million for Illinois State University and $57.5 million for Southern Illinois University. The bill also includes $74.1 million for community colleges – 27 percent of annual funding – and $167.6 million for about a semester’s worth of MAP grants.

Unlike previous bills Rauner has vetoed or threatened to veto, this measure draws its money from a specific source: the education assistance fund, which receives dedicated revenue from state income taxes and other sources.

Mayfield was quick to point out that this is not the end of the conversation on higher education funding for the current fiscal year.

“This right here is an emergency stopgap funding (bill) in order to provide a means for our universities, our community colleges to keep their doors open and the lights on,” she said.

Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, who represents Illinois State and was heavily involved in discussions with Democrats, said he’ll continue negotiating and is “committed to work within a budget frame that we can afford.”

“I don’t have the crystal ball of what happens from here in budget negotiations,” Brady said. “But I do know that the stopgap measure is critical to the universities right now, and that’s what we did in a bipartisan fashion.”

Southern Illinois President Randy Dunn said he’s thankful for the funding that’s been approved but will continue pushing for the remaining $140 million the university has requested from the state.

“We heard from both sides of the aisle, from both Republicans and Democrats, that there’s a pledge to continue working,” Dunn said, adding, “We will hold those officials to that pledge.”

However, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said the funding approved Friday could end up being all that universities receive for the current fiscal year.

“I’m not quite sure we can get anything else done on higher ed,” Durkin said.

Although the Senate approved the measure unanimously, not everyone was entirely pleased with it.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said there should be some relief “that we have actually been able … to come together to provide some drink of water to some people who have been crawling in the fiscal desert for some time.”

But Righter said he was disappointed the bill didn’t do more to help Eastern Illinois, which is in his district and has had to lay off hundreds of employees to keep its doors open.

With at least a short-term solution in place for higher education, social services remain the last major piece of the state budget not being funded.

The Senate approved a separate measure Friday, also on a 55-0 vote, that includes identical funding for higher education and $441 million for social services from another dedicated fund. That measure would fund many social service programs at 35 percent of what they received in fiscal year 2015.

The governor’s office said that proposal doesn’t have his support – yet.

“We look forward to working with the (General Assembly) to build on today’s bipartisan momentum to ensure social services, public safety and public health are funded in the weeks ahead as we negotiate a balanced budget with reform for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017,” spokeswoman Catherine Kelly wrote in an email.


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