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Senators OK spending for universities, Amtrak and more, but governor says money not there


From Illinois Business Journal news services

SPRINGFIELD — Senators passed legislation on Thursday to grant spending authority for needs like Southern Illinois University and Amtrak, but the Governor’s Office says there is still no budget in place to pay for it all.

“Senate Democrats today admitted that this bill would do nothing to help higher education, MAP students or social services because there is no money to pay for it. Rather than adding billions to our debt and risk further delaying payments to social service providers, the General Assembly needs to stay in Springfield and negotiate a balanced budget alongside structural reforms that create jobs and grow our economy,” Catherine Kelly, press secretary for Gov. Bruce Rauner, said in a statement regarding passage of Senate Bill 2059.

Southern Illinois senators say SIU and other state universities would finally get state support and potentially scale back program cuts and layoffs thanks to the legislation.

Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said the legislation includes $185 million in support for SIU. The vote comes just days after university leaders warned lawmakers that deep cuts and layoffs were coming because the state had stopped supporting state schools.

“State schools deserve state support,” Forby said. “SIU is the economic engine of our region. We must work hard to keep this institution open and keep jobs in Southern Illinois. The fact that more than 300 faculty and administrative professionals could be laid off is outrageous.”

The proposal Forby supported also cements an Amtrak deal to keep trains running through Carbondale and elsewhere in the state.

Rauner and state transportation officials announced a deal with Amtrak in February. However, because the governor last year vetoed the budget that includes Amtrak funding, he had no spending authority to honor that contract. The legislation Forby helped pass gives the governor the authority to honor that contract.

“Amtrak is a vital transportation option. Thousands of SIU students and staff rely on it along with tourists coming to enjoy all Southern Illinois has to offer. I’m glad the governor abandoned his efforts to slash Amtrak service and will now have the ability to back up the contract he signed,” said Forby.

SB 2059 passed the Senate with a vote of 39 to 18 and is being sent to the House for consideration. The House is on recess until the first week of April.

The measure gives spending authority to the governor to allow him to honor his contract commitment to Amtrak, while also including funds for higher education, some critical social service programs and other programs and services not receiving funding from court orders or consent decrees.

State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, was among supporters.

“This has gone on long enough,” Haine said. “Today we sent yet another plan to help get Illinois back on track. As we enter our ninth month without a budget, I hope we can finally find room to compromise. As I have said before, any ‘pro-growth’ agenda must include a commitment to the Illinois system of higher education. SIU in Edwardsville attracts students throughout the Midwest and is essential to our economic future, as well as our students’ futures.”

Haine said the bill also gives the governor financial authority to release funding that would allow social service and senior care providers to stay afloat.

“When we have seniors not receiving Meals on Wheels or the help they need because the Community Care Program is suffering, we have an issue. We cannot carry on like this as a state,” Haine said.

Many of these agencies have contracts with the state but are not covered under continuing appropriations or court orders. The measure passed by the Senate on Thursday would simply give the governor the authority and ability to honor contracts he signed.

Transportation, job training, prostate screenings, local tourism and libraries also would be among intended beneficiaries.
Senate Bill 2059 is similar to House budget legislation passed earlier this month (HB 2990), but with spending authority for Amtrak and other critical services added.

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