Rauner aide blasts university 'cronyism' amid funding debate

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner took a shot at "waste" and "cronyism" in public universities Wednesday, telling lawmakers through a surrogate that schools should be more accountable for their spending before the state finds money for tuition grants that Democrats are pushing.

A memo from Richard Goldberg, the Republican governor's deputy chief of staff, was distributed to legislators just before Senate Democrats made a plea for putting money up for the popular college subsidy. The lawmakers are seeking $182 million to pay back universities that fronted Monetary Award Program grants for students last fall, never getting state reimbursement.

The missive stole attention from the legislative call to reimburse universities. The Monetary Award Program provides income-based tuition grants that have gone unfunded because Rauner and legislative Democrats are tussling over how to craft a state budget that should have taken effect July 1.

Rauner wants broad changes in Illinois to ease the cost of doing business and curb union power before a fiscal deal. Democrats who control the General Assembly say those issues are unrelated to the budget and the state must deal immediately with a deficit.

The memo opens with the contention that university tuition rates have jumped 200 percent in the past 14 years, producing $1.5 billion in "new revenue" over which the General Assembly has no control.

It made no mention of the continuous slashing of state support for higher education during that time. It took aim at steep increases in administrative staff, outsize executive compensation, "golden parachutes" for administrators and money spent for lobbying - with a slap at lobbyist Loretta Durbin, wife of Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

Goldberg encouraged legislators "to ask Illinois public universities what reforms they are willing to adopt to cut waste, root out cronyism, improve outcomes and achieve savings of taxpayers' money."

It was delivered on the first day back for legislators in the new year - and neither the House nor Senate has plans to return until Jan. 27, when Rauner is scheduled to give his State of the State address.

While Rauner and lawmakers have made deals to provide funding for other state programs, the first-term executive continues to oppose what he calls "piecemeal" budgeting. Without spending cuts, funding the grants would pose cash-flow trouble for the state treasury, the memo said.

But Sen. Pat McGuire, a Joliet Democrat sponsoring the reimbursement legislation, said that money pays students' tuition and fees, with no money funneled to the areas that worry Rauner.

"These are young men and women who could help solve problems and improve higher education in the 21st century. But if we make it economically impossible for them to obtain a higher education, we're setting ourselves back," McGuire said.

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen said there's a hiring freeze at the school's three campuses and tuition is frozen for in-state students. The Associated Press has reported that support from Springfield has dropped at the U of I more than $1 billion since 2002, adjusted for inflation.

Illinois State University spokesman Jay Groves said the school's state appropriation has dropped more than $8 million from what it was a decade ago, to $74 million last year. He said the school relies more and more on tuition to provide needed revenue.

The memo said colleges' administrative staff numbers increased 31 percent from 2004 to 2010 while enrollment climbed just 2.3 percent. It rebuked Illinois State for a $480,418 severance to fired President Timothy Flanagan after just seven months on the job, and the University of Illinois for attempting to give departing chancellor Phyllis Wise $400,000 after a public-records scandal. It said administrators have spent thousands on private jets; criticized executive compensation that includes cars and drivers and multiple country club memberships; and said tuition waivers are too freely given.

It pointed out that Eastern Illinois University paid $627,000 over 13 years to lobbyist Loretta Durbin. Neither Durbin nor a spokeswoman for her husband immediately responded to requests for comment.

Rep. Mark Batinick, a Plainfield Republican who sits on the House Higher Education Committee, said lawmakers have contributed to the problem by "micromanaging" administrative rules, but said improvements could be made.

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The MAP bill is SB2226.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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