CHAMPAIGN – Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to generate more money to spend on higher education, he told a crowd at the University of Illinois’ flagship campus Thursday, but he wants school administrators to take a first step by better managing finances and reducing costs.
The new Republican governor continued to advocate limits on union influence, saying public-employee unions shouldn’t be able to help finance the campaigns of politicians with whom they negotiate contracts.
In his speech at the I Hotel and during a brief session with reporters, Rauner repeated themes aimed at improving the state’s business climate and economy that he’s stressed in other appearances around the state during his first month – all previews of his first State of the State Address on Feb. 4 and Feb. 18 budget address.
He said the University of Illinois is a strong driver of a better, more economically fit Illinois. For the school to be well-financed and draw the best faculty, it must first look for places to cut spending.
“We have got to deal with the bureaucracies – I’m going to demand that we do it,” he said without offering details of what he’d like to see happen.
He also said the university “was on the right track” when it recently froze tuition for the coming year.
Urbana-Champaign campus Chancellor Phyllis Wise listened to Rauner from just a few feet away and said afterward he delivered a powerful message – one the university will heed.
“We can point out some things that I think can really help,” said Wise, who was a member of Rauner’s transition team. “We’re ready to share the pain with the citizens of the state of Illinois. We have to figure out how we can be efficient.”
Wise has said she expects tighter state funding but doesn’t see wage freezes and employee furloughs as options to help control spending. About 30 percent of the university’s $5.6 billion budget comes from state funding.
Rauner also told the packed conference room that conflicts of interest bog down Illinois’ competitiveness.
“Groups that contract with the state should not be making campaign contributions to the people across the table with whom they’re negotiating,” he said, while adding that he isn’t anti-union. Earlier this week, however, Rauner proposed right-to-work zones in the state, in which employees could choose whether to pay union dues.
Outside the hotel, about 120 union workers and their supporters picketed in gusty, 35-degree weather. Matthew Kelly, president of the Champaign County Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, said the unions feel singled out by Rauner.
“To say that unions and union members are the problem, the only problem with the state, I disagree with that,” Kelly said. “They’re trying to solve all the state’s debt problems on our backs.”
The governor didn’t offer details, but said some state agencies are starting to run out of money with the end of the fiscal year, on June 31 still months away.
“We’ve got a plan to deal with it,” he said. “We’ll be outlining it very shortly.”