BY MARTIN KICH
Governor Bruce Rauner is doing Scott Walker one better and turning Illinois into Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana without even pausing along the way to replicate what Walker has done in Wisconsin.
What is occurring in all of these states is also occurring in Kansas, in Maine, and in a slew of states in the South from Texas to North Carolina. But in those other states, the gutting of public education, as well as other public services and public institutions, has been accomplished in a more pedestrian way: that is, there has been at least a pretense of actually governing—if, that is, the conventional sense of the word “government” still retains any meaning for these people. (It is like someone drawing a paycheck for cutting hair but just opening and closing the scissors as if the air were hair.) In Louisiana, Jindal operated what was quite blatantly a governmental Ponzi scheme, shifting money around just ahead of budget crises so that he would not be called to account for his abject mismanagement of the state’s finances.
Now it may appear to some that Rauner is attempting to avoid a budget crisis comparable to the one now occurring in Louisiana by demanding austerity government in Illinois now. But, in all of the other states that I have mentioned, the gutting of funding for public education, as well as for other public services and public institutions, has been justified as fiscal necessity—even as massive tax cuts for the very wealthiest state residents and for corporations have been put into place. So what is presented as a necessary response to a fiscal crisis just ends up perpetuating the fiscal crisis because there is never enough tax revenue when tax rates keep being cut.
CNN reports that at Eastern Illinois University, 13% of the school’s employees have just been laid off: “Support staff–like those who work in the food, housing, and building maintenance departments—have absorbed most of the cuts. Professors have escaped the ax, but some of the remaining administrative staff members will be required to take one furlough day a week, starting March 1. University President David Glassman says he has to make the cuts because lawmakers have not released funding for public colleges in the past eight months. They are a ‘direct result’ of the missing funds, he said in a message posted to the university’s website.
“Eastern Illinois and the state’s 11 other public universities have been waiting for state funds because of the budget stalemate between a Republican governor and a Democrat-controlled legislature. The 48 community colleges in Illinois are also waiting for the funding— which can account for as much as 30% of the budget at some schools.
Lawmakers can’t agree on how to fund the budget and the longer it takes, the longer public colleges and other state programs go without getting the money expected for the current fiscal year. . . . Additionally, money for state grants awarded to low-income students were never distributed, so Eastern and other colleges are covering that cost, too.”
Enrollment at the state’s college and universities has declined over the past half-decade, meaning that tuition revenues have also proportionately declined. Nonetheless, Rauner is demanding that state support for its public colleges and universities be cut by 32%.
On the plus side, the state did, however, finally pay the winners of its lottery [see: Illinois paid lottery winners before college students.]