Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rauner comes to town

Governor's Rauner's visit to Murphysboro this week was covered in stories from the Southern Illinoisan, the Carbondale Times, and WSIU. The most relevant bit for higher ed from the story in the Southern is this:
In his Q&A session with students, Rauner said the state could use special-purpose funds to pay for higher education now -- if only Democrats in the General Assembly would agree to some savings measures. Democrats and Rauner’s critics have decried the governor’s unwillingness to compromise.
Rauner's budget calls for a 20% cut in state funding (after no funding next year); that's what he means by "funds to pay higher education". The "savings measures" currently advocated by the GOP include "procurement reform", basically a set of changes to streamline the process universities use to purchase things. That may be a good idea--but it is hardly going to save a tremendous deal of money. The "special purpose funds" are funds set aside for, uh, a special purpose. Say, you pay for a hunting license and expect that money to go to the Department of Natural Resources. Instead Rauner suggests we use it to pay for English Composition--and expect state lands in Illinois to take care of themselves. No wonder that an expert cited in the Chicago Tribune (not exactly a progressive source) characterized sweeps as "misleading, at best, and downright deceptive". Re-routing those funds is hardly a case for good government. And sweeping such accounts isn't a steady source of income for anything.
Some malcontents were not happy to see our Governor.
In the Carbondale Times, Rauner appears to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
“We have the money there, we have special-purpose funds that are not needed in the government, and we could fund our universities right now if the legislature would let me put that money into our universities, so SIU wouldn’t have to lay off anybody, so Eastern Illinois University wouldn’t have to lay off anybody,” Rauner said. “But Speaker Madigan wants to cause a tax hike, and he’s trying to hold the school funding hostage for a tax hike.”
Okay, so his point is that Mike Madigan is holding the universities hostage for a tax hike (despite the Democrats passing higher education funding not tied to a tax hike). Maybe that nasty Mike Madigan doesn't want to let the Governor decide how all those special funds are spent all on his own, seeing as Madigan thinks that Illinois also has a legislature, not just a CEO. Then there's this.
“It’s frustrating to no end that we don’t have a budget,” Rauner said. “We should have had a budget last summer. Here’s the critical issue: We’ve been having deficit spending, we’ve been having unbalanced budgets for decades. We’ve run out of money. We have the biggest unfunded pensions in America. It’s not fair to our teachers. It’s not fair to our government employees. It’s not fair to taxpayers. We’ve been running deficits for years and borrowing money to cover up our deficits.”
Oh, so we don't have the money after all? Damn. But wait, Rauner isn't done yet (in the Carbondale Times story)!
Rauner said that instead of relying on tax increases, the state needs to fix the structural issues that have paved the way for such fiscal chaos, which will in turn promote confidence among those who could create more jobs in the state.
This is presumably a reference to Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda", a set of reforms designed to improve business conditions in Illinois. Rich Miller published a column in Crain's Chicago Business arguing that Rauner's reforms would result in a whopping 1.4% increase in state revenues--even if we buy the Governor's own estimates. His column, published in a venue that isn't exactly feeling the Bern, is titled "Rauner's Turnaround Agenda Math Doesn't Add Up." And thanks to our CEO Governor, we're certainly done with fiscal chaos in Illinois.

So let's add up Rauner's statements about funding for higher edcuation:
  • We have enough money if we steal money set aside for other purposes, but the evil Mike Madigan won't let me spend it.
  • Actually, we don't have enough money. 
  • Okay, we can use Turnaround Magic (TM) to fix 'structural issues' that will magically make everything better! Or at least increase revenues by 1.5%.
On the other hand, that damned Mike Madigan wants to raise taxes. Which might actually increase revenues, instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul or conjuring money out of thin air. Mike Madigan is no saint, but the Democrats are actually voting to spend money on higher education. And they recognize that it takes revenue to pay for higher education. So they want to fund universities, and they appear to recognize that if you want to spend money you need to have money to spend. Call me a partisan, but I've got a clue about who cares more about public higher education in Illinois.

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