CHICAGO – The Illinois House's Democratic majority failed Wednesday to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a $721 million bill that would have provided aid for cash-starved community colleges and low income student grants.
An appropriation for both has been held up with the state into its ninth month without a fiscal 2016 spending plan. While funds continue to flow to cover much of state government spending under continuing appropriations and court orders, state aid to higher education funding is blocked.
The Senate voted 37 to 17 to override Rauner's veto, meeting the three-fifths threshold needed to succeed. Two voted present. The later vote in the House, where Democrats hold a more narrow three-fifths majority, failed in a 69-48 vote. All 71 Democratic votes were needed for the override to succeed. The House vote underscores the limits of the Democrats' powers in their feud with the GOP governor.
Senate Bill 2043 would have given Rauner the authority to appropriate state aid payments to community college payments and student financial aid grants under the state's Monetary Award Program.
"We applaud House Republicans and Rep. Drury for standing up for taxpayers today," Rauner's spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement referring to Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, who broke ranks to sustain the veto. Another Democrat, Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago, did not vote.
"Despite the governor's request that the General Assembly not waste time with a political vote that was never going to pass, the legislature is poised to leave students, universities and community colleges in the lurch for at least a month. We continue to urge Democratic leaders not to recess until the General Assembly passes a bipartisan proposal to fund MAP and higher education," Kelly added.
Democrats approved the bill in January after rejecting Rauner-backed bills that would have freed up $1.6 billion for higher education appropriations because they would give him sweeping new powers to move funds around and cut spending. Another bill is pending that would provide higher education funds by cancelling repayment in fiscal 2017 of a sweep of non-general funds to help balance the fiscal 2015 budget.
The votes Wednesday came after bitter debate in both chambers during which members voiced anger and frustration over the state's larger budget and pension woes and the stalemate over a fiscal 2016 budget.
Republicans charged that the state couldn't afford the bill which draws from the near empty general fund without a specific funding method and accused Democrats of political motivations in pushing the override as a means to help incumbents' prospects in the March 15 primary. They called the Rauner-backed bills a better alternative.
Democrats argued the bill offered the best near-term solution to get funding to two-year colleges and to students in need of their MAP grants and called on Republicans to break with Rauner and back the plan or risk losing students to out-of-state colleges. They stressed that a larger higher education funding bill could be taken up at a later date.
"This is the way to help, this is the way to get education funded," House sponsor Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Oak Lawn, told members.
"This is about politics," charged state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove.
"There's no revenue there that's going to allow the comptroller to write the check," argued Rep. David Harris, R-Mt. Prospect. "What a terrible injustice we do by enacting an appropriation….to pay a bill that we know cannot be paid…it digs our hole deeper."
"We have a real possibility of losing a whole generation of students," argued Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, citing credit downgrades suffered by the state's public institutions, announced layoffs, and warnings over accreditation that put federal student aid at risk.
In the Senate debate, Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, told Democrats they were "sticking" their thumbs in Rauner's eye and accused them of being "more interested in scoring political points rather than solving the budget problem."
Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, countered: "Let's stop the rhetoric…we have to start somewhere and we do that by voting for this bill today."