Illinois GOP calls Democrats' college spending bill a hoax

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Democrats approved $721.5 million for tuition grants and community colleges Thursday, a move Republicans called an empty promise because there's no budget and the spending measure likely will be vetoed.

The action from Democrats only served to highlight the chasm between the two parties when it comes to settling the state's finances, one day after Gov. Bruce Rauner urged lawmakers to cast aside partisanship during his State of the State address.

The governor's budget office said in a letter to lawmakers that Rauner is being advised to veto their idea because there's no revenue for it and its not connected to any spending cuts to make up for it.

Rep. Jim Durkin, the Republicans' House leader, called the Democrats' proposal "a cruel hoax" on students who think they're going to get money.

"Do we print money in this building?" Durkin asked before the House voted 67-42 to pass the spending measure. The Senate later approved it on a 36-12 vote, sending it to Rauner. Durkin said he told House leaders the governor would veto the bill.

The funding measure would allocate $324.4 million to community colleges for operating costs and $397.1 million to the Monetary Award Program, which provides tuition assistance for low-income students.

Democrats say colleges and students are in desperate need for money because they've gotten no state funding since July 1, when the budget should've taken effect. Instead, the parties have been clashing over how to proceed.

Democrats want a tax increase and spending cuts to close a multibillion-dollar budget hole. Rauner, meanwhile, maintains he won't support a tax increase without reforms, including term limits, limiting the power of unions and making it easier for businesses to operate in Illinois.

Some colleges have been fronting students money for the tuition grants, but many institutions said they can't do that anymore.

"I think what's important for us to note is that this budget impasse we're in is affecting the lives of so many young people who really just need a start in life," said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat from Westchester.

Last week, the presidents of nine Illinois public universities said in a letter to Rauner that the state's higher education system will be damaged beyond repair if a budget isn't approved soon. The letter said there may be closings when funds for several universities and community colleges run out.

Republicans say they want to help colleges and students, but argue the state should pass a full budget.

"There's no money behind this, and this is nothing more than an empty gesture," Sen. Matt Murphy, a Republican from Palatine.

Republicans also pitched a funding measure for higher education Thursday, but it wasn't considered. It would budget $1.6 billion for the grants, community colleges and for four-year universities, which aren't covered in the Democrats' proposal.

But the GOP's proposal would also give Rauner the power during a budget crisis to make cuts and shift money around where he wants, an idea Democrats quickly dismissed.

Rep. Lou Lang, one of the Democrats' House leaders, said that would amount to giving Rauner "unprecedented and king-like powers to play around with the budget any way he wishes."


Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed to this story in Springfield.


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