Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, speaks during a news conference on March 1, 2017, at the state Capitol in Springfield, Ill. Cullerton said Tuesday that his chamber will vote this week on a proposal to send more than $815 million to universities and social service providers that have gone months without funding, despite objections from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. (Rich Saal / AP)
Democratic Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said Tuesday that his chamber will vote this week on a proposal to send more than $815 million to universities and social service providers that have gone months without funding, despite objections from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The House approved the legislation before leaving town for spring break, though it’s possible the Senate may put its own stamp on the proposal instead of sending it directly to Rauner’s desk.
Under the measure, two specialized state accounts set aside for higher education and social service programs would be tapped to help ease the financial pressure facing schools and those who care for the vulnerable. Those funds are separate from the state’s main checking account, with the money coming from a small portion of income tax revenues.
Of the money, $258 million would be split among social service agencies and $559 million would go to community colleges, scholarships for low-income students and day-to-day operations at state universities.
Rauner has argued that such one-time spending plans do little to address the state’s long term funding issues, saying lawmakers should instead focus on a long-term deal to end the state’s historic budget impasse.
Cullerton countered that the money was just sitting there unable to be used on anything else, which he called "ridiculous" given the difficulties facing higher education and social service providers during the impasse. "Those moneys are trapped in those funds," said Cullerton.
Cullerton also rejected the idea that freeing up that cash would remove the pressure for a larger deal, noting that he and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno have been negotiating an agreement. Cullerton has blamed Rauner for derailing those talks, saying an agreement is not near despite recent suggestions from the governor to the contrary.
"We still have the pressure of owing $13 billion, and spending $8 billion more than we have coming in, that’s enough pressure," Cullerton said.
"We had those bills ready to go, and of course, what happens? The governor pulled the plug on it. So now we have to hope that the governor comes back to Springfield from campaigning, stop campaigning for about six weeks, govern, and then he can campaign on some successes."
Meanwhile, after weeks of letting the idea linger, Cullerton put to rest the notion that he would not seek re-election, saying he planned to file his petitions to run again next year.
"I want to serve under a Democratic governor again," said Cullerton, who declined to endorse a candidate in the March 2018 primary election.