Smile Politely

Budget impasse helps no one; hurts all of us

Like many, I’m sure, this past Tuesday I sat down on my sofa with a beer and some snacks and watched the Super Tuesday results as they scanned across my TV. Pundits talked on and delegates were added to each candidate’s name like a scoreboard, slowly compiling to eventually choose a nominee from each party.

It’s just like sports. I sat down this Tuesday to watch the votes come in like it was an Illini NCAA Tournament game (man, those were the days), not like it was a contest to pick the next president, and maybe that’s the problem. In a world where Donald Trump is dominating the short attention spans of Americans everywhere, the primaries aren’t simply a game. People’s lives are at stake, and perhaps the election should be paired with more poignant conversation and dialogue than looking at a scoreboard and rooting for a candidate, watching CNN like it’s ESPN.

This realization at first is funny. The notion that politics is like a game or a sporting event is so delightfully American. I mean, hell, football season is over so we might as well watch politics, right? But then I thought on it more, and this cavalier spectatorial aspect of politics may be what’s hurting us. The reverberations of the detriments can be felt from the national level, where Donald Trump says one ridiculous thing after another (even if it’s contradictory) in order to pander to get more votes. It’s even felt, to a differing extent, at the state level, where petty rivalries have led to a budget impasse that is being felt by tens of thousands of Illinois residents.

The refusal of House Speaker Michael Madigan and Governor Bruce Rauner to reach an agreement on a budget is so clearly petty, it amounts to the equivalent of two fourth graders fighting over a pack of fruit Gushers in the cafeteria. Each side is so unwilling to compromise, now we are seeing the effects from the budget impasse in real-time as our legislators play out their own personal game for sport.

But this isn’t a game. Not even close.

For example, just last week, every single faculty and staff member at Chicago State University got a layoff notice because they are not receiving the funding owed to them by the state. Everyone. Even the university’s president. Things aren’t much better downstate, where Eastern Illinois in Charleston is said to be next on the chopping block if no agreement is reached. After that will come the closure of Western Illinois, Southern Illinois and Illinois State, who are all owed millions of dollars in MAP grants. The effects have yet to wreck the state’s crown jewel, the U of I, but elsewhere in C-U, Parkland College just announced a massively trimmed down budget for next year, including a nearly 12% tuition increase, staff layoffs and other budget-tightening measures.

On the surface, this problem seems fairly simple: low-income students need MAP grants for education, and the state of Illinois should be responsible for finding them funding, end of story, right? I mean education should be valued over everything – surely there is a way to take money from something – anything – else, right? Wrong, apparently. 

Last week, Governor Rauner vetoed a bill that would provide MAP funding to over 100,000 students who are currently receiving nothing. When the House tried to override his veto, they failed by a mere two votes, without a single Republican sticking up for low-income students. It’s despicable, really. Even Republican Representative Chapin Rose, who represents the 51st district and many, many university employees, missed the vote to override the veto because of “food poisoning.”

Pardon my crass language, but are you fucking kidding me? Your constituents livelihoods are at stake and you don’t vote on it because you’re sick? I don’t care if you can’t hold food down; get a trash can, set it next to your desk, and represent your constituents like you were voted into office to do.

Believe me, I understand our state is in a dire position due to decades of mismanagement. I get it, I really do. I know Rauner came to office riding the wave of pissed off voters in Illinois who wanted to see our state turn into a bastion of business and profit, but since his election, Rauner has done absolutely nothing but hurt downstate constituents by refusing to compromise on a budget.

Governor Rauner, I implore you. Please listen to reason. Holding higher education funding hostage in order to pass a budget is obscene. Chicago State, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and every other state school in Illinois provides vital services.

Perhaps the governor doesn’t get this because he was born in a northern suburb of Chicago to a lawyer and Motorola executive, was educated at Harvard and Dartmouth, and has never had to worry about funding his education in his entire life. But these students, no matter their income, matter. Giving a student from a bad neighborhood in Chicago or Champaign a scholarship to Eastern or CSU or Southern is part of what makes this country great. It’s what enables the American Dream I’m sure Rauner spouts about all the time. Can you imagine what would happen to a town like Charleston or Macomb if you took their universities away? Those are the equivalent of one-industry towns, and would see an economic collapse if their industry is taken away.

So please, Governor Rauner, on behalf of the janitor laid off at EIU with a family and bills to pay, on behalf of the student on scholarship at Chicago State whose money has disappeared, and on behalf of the prospective student who is applying to schools in Indiana because they’re not certain if Illinois’ colleges will even be open another year, reach a compromise on this budget issue. These aren’t the people who deserve to be targeted. Point blank. Bottom line. There has to be something else to cut from. Not education. These are kids who have done nothing wrong – why are we destroying their future?

This isn’t just spectatorship anymore. As much as CNN would like to say otherwise, isn’t a political game. These are the lives of human beings that are willfully being destroyed in order to push a brutal agenda. These are kids, who just want to get a better life for themselves. They’re professors and staff members who have had their job for decades – and now, all because of a bull-headed governor, their lives are being turned upside down.

If you want to learn more about the budget impasse and hear from local lawmakers, check out The Round Table tonight at The Accord.

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