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Local

MAP quest

Rob Winner – rwinner@kcchronicle.com
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn visited the Northern Illinois University campus to rally for Illinois MAP Grants.
Rob Winner – rwinner@kcchronicle.com Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn visited the Northern Illinois University campus to rally for Illinois MAP Grants.

DeKALB – Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday that he intends to work with lawmakers during the next month to restore about $200 million within the next month to a state grant program that provides money to needy college students.

"I am committed to getting funding," the Democratic governor said during an early-afternoon appearance at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. "...We are going to prevail. We will not accept anything but full funding for MAP Grants."

The Monetary Assistance Program Grants provides up to $5,000 a year to students from low-income families to attend college. Lawmakers initially proposed providing $440 million for grants and scholarships for the 2009-2010 academic year. That funding was cut in half, and just under $200 million will be spent on MAP Grants, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

All of the program's funding was distributed during the fall semester, leaving none for the second term of the academic year. An estimated 137,000-138,000 students received the grant this year, down from the 145,000 who did during the 2008-09 academic year.

Higher education officials are asking lawmakers to address the shortfall during the fall Veto Session, which is in October. NIU President John Peters said it must be done then, since students register for the spring semester in late October and November.

Quinn said he understood that, and would push for a solution.

"I will not let the Legislature go home," Quinn said. "I will keep calling Special Sessions if we have to. Students have to plan for their futures."

Where the $200 million needed for spring semester would come from is unknown. Quinn said that "everything should be on the table" and he was open to suggestions.

Among the ideas suggested to fund the program for the spring are an increase on the cigarette tax or a tax amnesty where anyone who owes the state money could pay their taxes during a six-week period and not be penalized. The state's Revenue Department estimates that could generate more than $100 million, according to state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, who introduced the measure.

When asked if he would use any of the discretionary funding he has at his disposal for the program, Quinn said it was an option.

Pritchard said his idea could raise half of the funding and said the governor should use his discretionary funding to make up the remainder.

"If this is his No. 1 priority, he should spend it on it," he added.

State Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, said Quinn has the budget latitude to restore the funds for the second semester – but he wondered where the governor would find the money. Lauzen said if he ran the Medicaid program of health care for the poor and disabled more efficiently, it could shore up the MAP grants.

"The biggest increase in spending in the last six years has been expansion of eligibility for Medicaid," Lauzen said. "Now one of every two babies born in Illinois, that birth is paid by Medicaid funds. The eligibility is 2.5 times the poverty level and we still dont have managed care. It's just a common sense way of controlling costs in our government-run health care for poor and disabled."

Lauzen suggested both programs could be funded if the Medicaid program were prioritized and run more efficiently. He said the state has had a $6 billion a year increase in spending from 2002 to 2008.

"Just prioritize and reduce the least important one-third," Lauzen said. "You'd save $2 billion a year. But that has not been the will of the majority party."

Lauzen blamed the spending on former Gov. Blagojevich's political ambitions for president or vice-president.

"He could be a hero on more Medicaid and have a national issue to run on – on our expense," Lauzen said.

- Brenda Schory contributing

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