State Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) said securing funding for higher educations is her biggest legislative priority right now. She applauds the state’s community colleges and four-year universities for standing behind MAP grants for students this year, and added that she doesn’t want the schools to struggle to get through the summer and fall.
“We can’t wait much longer. This is imminent. It’s the funding, it’s the students, it’s the enrollment, but it’s also the accreditation for our universities and our community college programs," Hammond said.
Hammond’s district includes Western Illinois University and Spoon River College. Community colleges and four-year universities have not received state financial support in nine months due to the budget impasse.
Hammond recently opposed an override attempt in the Illinois House of Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a SB 2043. An override would have released state support to fund MAP grants, community colleges, and four-year universities.
Hammond said every House Republican voted against the proposal and ultimately blocked the override attempt because there was not any funding tied to the bill.
“Let’s pass this, let’s fund higher ed, but let’s make sure the money is there because these presidents and these students can’t take any more false promises," Hammond said.
"We can’t just tell them, ‘Okay, we passed a bill to fund higher ed,' because that would go to the end of the line and we know that the end of the line is already $7.5 million short. So we need to actually identify how we are going to fund it."
Instead, Hammond is co-sponsoring HB 4539 to fund higher education this year:
- fully fund MAP grants
- cut state aid for universities by 20%
- cut state aid for community colleges by 10%
“There is a reduction there, but when I talk to my university presidents and my community college presidents they’re like, ‘We will take money at this point.’ We have to save them. They are absolutely at the edge of the cliff,” Hammond said.
Funding for Hammond’s proposal would come from Republican Governor Bruce Rauner being given the authority to transfer money around state government under the Unbalanced Budget Response Act.
It’s a move some call unprecedented, but Hammond said Democratic Governor Pat Quinn was given similar authority when he took office following Democratic Governor Rob Blagojevich’s impeachment, and the same authority was granted to fix last fiscal year’s budget hole. “It has been done numerous times," Hammond said. “But is it something you want to make common practice? Oh no, absolutely not.”
She identified one possible funding source that could be swept by Governor Bruce Rauner: it's compromised of licensing fees paid by chiropractors to cover possible instances of abuse.
“There’s billions of dollars there so we could move that funding around,” Hammond said. “The discussion is, do we pay it back? Do we not pay it back? We have a ruling right now that we pay funds back in 18 months. But, the bottom line is it would fund higher education.”
Hammond said some of her colleagues are mistrustful of giving Governor Rauner that authority. So, she said House Republicans have offered to write a list of which funds can be swept and which are off limits.
“There’s room for compromise and movement here, we just have to have that conversation.”
Hammond’s education funding bill is currently in the House Rules Committee. She said that it cannot be brought before the entire chamber unless Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan calls it up. Hammond said time is running out.
“We’ve got to have some common sense and have some people who are willing to compromise and sit down and have the discussion and if you don’t want to have the discussion, get out of the way,” Hammond said.
The House will be back in session next week.