Illinois Statehouse News | Analysis

Gov campaigns focus on education funding

2014-04-07T00:00:00Z 2014-04-16T16:42:26Z Gov campaigns focus on education fundingKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
April 07, 2014 12:00 am  • 

After Gov. Pat Quinn said schools and universities would suffer greatly if the state's temporary income tax isn't made permanent, we sought out his opponent for a response.

Rather than address Quinn's doomsday strategy regarding higher education, the wealthy Republican from Winnetka took a pass, suggesting it didn't exactly fit with his current campaign theme.

"We are focusing this week on Pat Quinn's broken promise on the tax hike, but will present an alternative plan in the future," Bruce Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in an email.

By mid-week, the rookie candidate was adjusting to the rigors of the campaign trail.

Rauner apparently got the memo that you need to be fluid in your messaging, particularly when your opponent is an incumbent who often gets to drive the agenda by flying around the state on the taxpayer dime.

Four days after his spokesman said higher education funding wasn't going to be the focus, Rauner went on the attack against Quinn's proposal to boost spending on a college student financial aid program.

Rauner said the governor's call for an increase in the Monetary Award Program comes after funding for MAP has been reduced in recent budgets.

We may not know exactly how Rauner would fix the situation, but at least we now know Rauner can multitask.

-- INCUMBENCY RULES

As if we needed any proof that being an elected official has many advantages, a press release arrived in our mailbox last week from Quinn's office.

In it, he announced four central Illinois construction projects, proving that you cannot measure how low a politician will go in order to get their name in the newspaper or on the nightly news.

The projects highlighted in the release include repairs to a salt storage dome in Decatur and an addition to a state highway garage in Lincoln.

Said Quinn, “This winter has caused us to realize just how vital these seemingly mundane facilities can be, and properly repairing and maintaining them will help us get ready for next year’s winter."

Mundane indeed.

-- SKIRTING THE CONSTITUTION

Quinn employed a bit of parliamentary sleight-of-hand last week in order to keep his top Medicaid aide on the job for another year.

With the Senate poised to vote down the confirmation of Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos, Quinn withdrew her nomination and then resubmitted it the next day, essentially re-starting the clock on her nomination process.

Senate Democrats, who control the chamber, were complicit in the move. Senate Republicans went ballistic.

"It's very disturbing to me that he'd pull such a stunt," said state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon.

By week's end, the GOP had sent a letter to the Attorney General seeking an opinion on the governor's head fake.

-- UNIVERSITY GIVING

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon recently received a $1,053 campaign contribution from the chancellor of Southern Illinois University.

Rita Cheng's contribution to Simon's campaign for comptroller got us thinking: How common is it for top university administrators to throw cash at candidates?

Turns out, it's not rare.

In 2012, former Illinois State University President Al Bowman contributed $500 to state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington. In 2008, he gave $250 to state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.

SIU President Glenn Poshard also has actively given money to politicians. Illinois State Board of Elections records, however, show he hasn't contributed any political dollars since 2005.

-- THE BIG TEN DEBATE

Legislation moving through the General Assembly would create a committee to investigate whether one of Illinois' existing universities could become part of the Big Ten conference.

One of the sponsors, state Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Lisle, suggested ISU or SIU-Edwardsville could be prime candidates to move into the conference.

He and co-sponsor state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, argue that many Illinois residents are leaving the state for other Big Ten schools because they can't get into the University of Illinois or Northwestern University in Evanston.

The exercise is just a whole lot of silliness.

In order to get into the Big Ten, Illinois taxpayers would have to dump a ton of money into upgrading facilities at either ISU of SIUE. You can just imagine during these tight fiscal times how that would go over with the university folks in Carbondale, Charleston, Macomb and DeKalb, much less the politicians who represent those areas.

Poshard told members of a House panel Thursday the idea is ridiculous.

"There's no way we can compete in the Big Ten," Poshard said.

The opinions are the writer's. Kurt Erickson is the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 782-4043.

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