Dueling proposals trying to keep state universities open in the fall

 
 
Updated 4/19/2016 6:13 PM
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  • University of Illinois and other state universities would get stop-gap funding under Democrats' and Republicans' competing plans.

    University of Illinois and other state universities would get stop-gap funding under Democrats' and Republicans' competing plans. Associated Press File Photo

  • Mike Fortner

    Mike Fortner

  • Rita Mayfield

    Rita Mayfield

A suburban Republican lawmaker wants to send Illinois universities four months worth of state funding to try to ensure they open their doors for the next school year.

The "stopgap" proposal from state Rep. Mike Fortner, a West Chicago Republican, follows a handful of other plans that have been debated in Springfield but all failed as Democratic leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner continue their nearly yearlong war over the state budget.

But a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan called the idea a "distant third-place" among proposals to pay for higher education in Illinois, putting its future in question.

In the meantime, state Rep. Rita Mayfield, a Waukegan Democrat, has won preliminary approval for a competing plan that would send out less money than Fortner's but would focus on the universities deemed to be the most desperate and unlikely to open in the fall -- Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University and Northeastern Illinois University.

State universities, community colleges and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora have gone without state money since July 1.

Fortner's proposal would draw money out of an existing state account intended to pay for education to give state universities and IMSA four months' worth of money so they could keep operating. The plan wouldn't include community colleges.

"That should give the certainty to make sure we can open in the fall as well as provide us time to get a real, permanent solution," he said.

Different universities and colleges have raised varying levels of alarm. In the suburbs, Harper College and College of Lake County in recent weeks announced layoffs related to the state budget stalemate.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has opposed Democrats' college budget proposals by arguing money isn't available to pay for them, but he supports Fortner's plan.

Mayfield was asked at a hearing whether she was picking winners and losers among the state's schools.

"We asked them: Can you make it through the end of this fiscal year?" she said. "It wasn't a case of picking winners and losers. We actually did reach out."

Democrats previously have sent Rauner a spending plan that would pay for both universities and community colleges, but the governor has criticized the plan for not including a way to pay for it.

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