Springfield budget fight has student rethinking political career

Western Illinois University student body President Wil Gradle of St. Charles, who traveled to Springfield this week as a guest of Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs, says his up-close look at state government this year might have colored his future.

The junior economics major has been advocating on behalf of his university because WIU, like other colleges, hasn't gotten state money since July 1. WIU trustees voted this week to proceed with layoffs. The young student politician puts most of the blame on the state's budget delinquency.

"It's absolutely disheartening," said Gradle, who says he's in the political middle but leans Republican. "For a while, I played with the notion of going into politics, going into public service. And my experience with Springfield, my experience with the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and the governor and the relationship there, or the lack thereof, has definitely been disenchanting, to say the least."

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Democratic lawmakers Thursday approved legislation that would pay for state scholarships for low-income students and the operations of community colleges. But Gov. Bruce Rauner could veto it, and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called the suggestion students will get money soon "a cruel hoax."

"Do we print money in this building?" Durkin said, according to The Associated Press.

<h3 class="leadin">Budget fight goes national

Reverberations from Gov. Bruce Rauner's State of the State speech Wednesday spread beyond Illinois politics and into the contentious race for U.S. Senate.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's State of the State address Wednesday wound up providing material for the campaigns for a U.S. Senate seat representing Illinois. Associated Press File Photo

It started with U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat vying for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park.

She called a news conference to try to tie Kirk to Rauner by visiting Chicago State University, an institution that might face closure this spring if the Springfield budget stalemate continues.

"Because of the stubbornness of the governor, it's a month away from shutting its doors to these kids," Duckworth said, according to remarks released by her campaign. "We can't punish kids like this."

<h3 class="leadin">Then ...

Kirk used the occasion to try to tie Duckworth to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who has been Rauner's most public budget foe.

"By attacking Gov. Rauner, it is clear that Rep. Duckworth is siding with Speaker Michael Madigan and his agenda of higher taxes and no reform," Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl said in a statement.

<h3 class="leadin">Next ...

Duckworth faces former Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp and state Sen. Napoleon Harris in the March 15 primary, and Zopp turned her ire toward Duckworth.

"The problem is, Duckworth's record on higher education is just as bad as Kirk's," a statement released by Zopp's campaign manager Bryce Colquitt read.

<h3 class="leadin">So ...

In debating who supported federal efforts to make college more affordable, Duckworth compared Kirk to Rauner. Kirk compared Duckworth to Madigan. And Zopp compared Duckworth to Kirk.

<h3 class="leadin">Audit question

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican, says she's not concerned about the integrity of an ongoing audit of College of DuPage even as questions swirl around the state's top auditor.

Ives won approval for a probe by the state auditor general's office last year, and college officials agreed to pay for it. Since then, the state's widely respected Auditor General Bill Holland left the post and was replaced by former Democratic lawmaker Frank Mautino of Spring Valley.

In recent weeks, reports by the Illinois Times have raised questions about Mautino's campaign account, including spending of $213,000 in 11 years at a single service station in his hometown.

Ives has joined the chorus saying Mautino needs to answer questions soon. But she said she's not worried about the COD audit because it had already begun and ethical staff members are on top of it.

"He's going to have to rely on staff," she said.

Mautino spokesman Ryan Keith said this week more answers are coming soon.

"His reports fully detail campaign expenditures that were made to help defray the standard, reasonable expenses incurred while Frank performed the governmental and public service duties of serving as state representative of his large, mostly rural district," he said in a statement this week.

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