As Governor, He’s Killing It… In a Literal Sense and That’s The Plan
Dan Collier & Derek Houston (REPOST From Forum on the Future of Public Education Feb, 2016)
Previously, on this forum, Dan wrote about several disciples of the Tea Party agenda and how the Tea Party holds a scorched earth agenda against higher education. One man of topic was Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner — remember the near-billionaire who primarily funded himself and ran as a false “moderate” Republican?
It was roughly one year ago that Rauner surprised higher education administrators by proposing a 30% reduction of appropriations to higher education. Luckily, for higher education, instead of agreeing to such egregious reductions the Democratic-controlled legislature responded by moderating cuts to 6.5%. Obviously, the cuts at this level would not stand as the sides were too far apart and many were expecting cuts in the middle to upper teens, possibly at worst even up to 20%.
However, instead of collaboratively adjusting the fine details of the budget, the Governor has made it very clear — he will not concede his “turn-around” agenda. And frankly, he needs not to. We believe that he believes it is unlikely he will become a second term governor, and since he was primarily self-financed he literally owes the general electorate nothing and is beholden to nobody. While that sounds “sexy” because to some it means he will get things “done” and because he is rather rich, he obviously must be able to get things done. Well, there’s a problem with this mentality, in that few people understand how he amassed his wealth and if they want him to run the state as he ran his businesses, this may be more painful for the general citizen than many probably considered.
See, your general pain — the state’s general pain — is clearly of no concern to his agenda. This is a common theme in his business practices. It’s not like he has a long history of being a champion for the average American — with the desire to kill unions, reduce the minimum wage, shipping jobs out of the country, and stripping down and dismantling companies. Then again, to be fair to him, he never claimed to be anyone’s friend. What he did claim was to turn Illinois around and he is doing so by attempting to do each of the actions listed above — except, replace the word “companies” with state-supported functions (e.g. social services, higher education). After all, it is what our state wanted.
It is through this no-compromise war of attrition that he can find success and work around collaboration on the details of the budget, especially for higher education. Doing nothing may become a big “win” for his agenda. While the Governor did not get the 30% reduction he desired, because of his no-action tactics he got the greatest Tea Party gift of them all — the ability to potentially close universities down, restructure labor contracts, and force various increased costs onto students.
Recently, Chicago State University (CSU) — unsurprisingly, a predominantly minority serving institution — has suggested that if funds are not released the institution “will be unable to pay its employees by March.” CSU is in crisis mode but so are other state institutions. Many have engaged in developing plans for the “point of no return” scenarios that will force the institutions to refocus on which students to recruit (more upper-middle class students who will pay increased tuition), reduce and eliminate departments, shed staff members, or they may simply have to close. If Illinois cannot pass a budget soon, the landscape of higher education in Illinois may dramatically change for the worse.
His non-action has also, again unsurprisingly, deeply disadvantaged Illinois’ neediest students because the Illinois Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants are suspended. These grants are determined by financial need, meaning that these are the students who literally cannot go to school without the funding. Suspension of this grant has encouraged students across the state to drop out of school this semester (SIU President Randy Dunn’s Interview). Now, many of these students will either 1) bear the brunt of accrued student loan debt while not making progress towards a degree or 2) increase their student loan and possibly parent loan amounts to offset the loss of MAP (up to $4,968 per year).
How do we, as a state, find this morally acceptable? The two of us do not. And, to us, this is just more evidence that the far right Tea Party is perfectly fine disenfranchising the neediest populations in their push to salt the land around governmental supported social services.
Through non-action, Rauner may be successful in shuttering an institution or more. Obviously, if this occurs he may be able to claim to “save” money as the state will not have the institutions on the books. Yet, the money “saved” in this non-action is not actually “saved” money as fewer college graduates will reduce the economic standing of Illinois. Higher education holds one of the greatest returns on investment for states. It is simple — the more graduates the state creates and retains, the more money the state makes back in taxes, lower health care costs, lower incarceration rates, AND lessened engagement in social safety nets.
Well Illinois, you wanted a man without ties to government, or to the people, and this is your result. The war of attrition does not favor higher education (or any governmental service) and by engaging in no-action, our Governor is razing the economic engines of the state, which obviously cannot be good for either the state or business.
 Note, we said far right Tea Party, not Republicans. We refuse to lump “Republicans” as a whole in with this type of action, as there are plenty of Republican leaders who invest in the people of their states, like the Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam. Because Haslam invested in higher education, compromises by working with both sides, and follows the laws as ruled on by the Supreme Court — Haslam has drawn Tea Party ire from those in the state and those outside of it, being called a “Liberal Republican,” “RINO,” and said to be a “progressive.” He is not the only Republican to have to face such attacks. As evidence of these attacks, The Tea Party, while a dominant force, does not represent “Republicans.” It is a faction within the party who happens to often be at odds with the rest of the Republican Party.