Wednesday, May 25, 2016

House fails to override Rauner veto of arbitration bill, will veto House democratic budget

Well, we seem to be back at full impasse in Springfield.

The Democratic House "supermajority" failed to override a veto of the AFSCME arbitation bill, which would have made an arbitrator the final decision maker, outlawing strikes by AFSCME or imposed terms by Rauner. Instead we await the ILRB decision as to whether negotiations have reached an impasse, as Rauner claims. If Rauner wins, he imposes terms, doubling our healthcare costs (if we do not choose reduced benefits), with AFSCME's only alternative being a strike.

Rauner also vowed, predictably, to veto the budget the Democratic House is sending his way. He has the constitutional ability to veto the bill as a whole or in part--but the only part he might let through would be K-12 funding. He has yet even to sign the social services spending bill passed on a bipartisan basis, utilizing "special funds" and thus "paid for" via the GOP calculus. The Southern has a persuasive editorial on that topic.

It sure seems as if Madigan and Rauner have both dug in their heels, meaning there will be little or no Higher Education funding until after the election. And there seems little reason to expect the election will change things much, unless the Democrats can pick up enough seats in the House to make their supposed "supermajority" (veto proof majority) actually stick--and have the moral courage to pass budgets with spending cuts and tax increases without Republican support. Rauner will pour millions into GOP campaigns, however, and the Democrats would have to win in Republican-leaning districts (like that of Terri Bryant) to pick up seats. If he picks up a few seats, though, that would not change anything as far as I can see: Rauner would still need Democratic votes to pass anything.

I'm off for a few days for a little conference and will try to forget about Illinois politics for a while.

Details of House Democratic plan emerge

Things are coming to a head at Springfield as the state comes up against the May 31 deadline to pass a FY 17 budget with a bare majority.

The House Democratic leadership (i.e., Madigan) has a scheme that basically calls for spending at the levels they approved (but were never enacted) for FY16. This is a 6.5% cut for higher education from FY15 levels. Here's their full plan; here's just the two pages on higher education, which include some specifics for SIU.

Alas, this plan is probably going nowhere. The state GOP has called it "the phoniest of phony budgets"; as it includes no new revenues, the plan doesn't balance the budget. It very strangely assumes that much of Illinois government will continue to be funded by court orders--i.e., it assumes that no overall budget will pass, which would remove the need for those court orders. There is, in short, some sort of political gamemanship going on--perhaps an effort to force Rauner to veto something that looks good, or at least contains funding that Democrats can tout to constituents. Here's an analysis from Greg Hinz at Crain's that points out that the plan contains K-12 funding--thereby linking it to everything else, rather than keeping K-12 separate, which would allow Rauner to support K-12 while vetoing everything else, as he did last year.

I bother posting the details only because they show what House Democrats would like to do for higher education. But it's less clear that they—or anyone else—is more interested in doing something for higher education, or the state as a whole, than they are interested in 'winning' the grand battle between Rauner and Madigan. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Chronicle article on regional universities

The Chronicle (access available via Morris library for SIUC folks) has a lengthy, balanced article on the plight of regional universities, centered on Western Illinois, and the decisions underway there about what programs to cut. Among the possible casualties at Western are philosophy, religious studies, geography, African-American studies, women's studies, music (BA), musical theater, bilingual education, and health sciences.

It's hard to imagine that we're not headed in the same direction: toward more unambiguous status as a "regional university" and toward program cuts. Unfortunately we can't expect any more stability as a regional university—even if we gutted research and increased teaching loads—than we have presently in our current status as a second-class research university. I'm frankly not sure of the best response for SIUC, but it's hard to imagine us flourishing if we are simply the SIU regional unit at Carbondale rather than Edwardsville. SIUE is already cleaning our clock in enrollment--are we really going to be able to attract students without the research mission? We are in a lovely part of the state--but it is also distant from all population centers, sparsely populated, and impoverished.

Perhaps the answer, inasmuch as there is any answer if the state continues to abandon us, is to cut non-instructional costs (something the otherwise thorough article ignores), and some academic programs, while retaining a research identify for (most of) the programs that remain.  A leaner, meaner (less ambitious, less well-rounded) research university--but still a research university.

Enrollment worries, indefinite impasse, etc.

The Southern ran an AP story on fears for enrollments at Illinois public universities next fall. Nothing terribly new or specific here, just confirmation of what we've been fearing/expecting.

Rich Miller of Capitol Fax made the following comment after linking to the same story:
Meanwhile, the governor has said he’s not too worried because universities have “other funding sources that are very, very significant.”  This is some seriously wrong-headed thinking.
Miller's weekly column paints a bleak outcast for budget progress, noting that both sides seem to be waiting for November, while there's little chance the election results will change the balance of power enough to break the impasse.

The Southern also reports that the Governor seems to be sticking to his guns, still calling for changes in workers' compensation and bargaining rights as the price for any increase in taxes to help craft a budget compromise. Madigan for his part seemed to be buoyed by the big union rally last week, and is no more compromise-minded than Rauner is.

The changing consensus views of where the state is or isn't headed remind me of nothing so much as teenage mood-swings. Some hope for progress a few weeks ago, now back to the two sides sulking in their corners. While social services and state universities rot.