January 27, 2023
Local News

Demonstration planned when Gov. Rauner visits NIU

Student, community groups up in arms over no state budget

DeKALB – Gov. Bruce Rauner will be met by what could be hundreds of demonstrators seeking an end to the state budget stalemate when he comes to speak Thursday at the Northern Illinois University campus.

Rauner will be the keynote speaker at the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp.'s annual fundraiser event, which will be held in the Duke Ellington Ballroom in the Holmes Student Center.

Starting at 4 p.m., the NIU Student Association and several local community nonprofits will hold a rally and informational session on campus where local leaders, including DeKalb County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. and state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, have been invited to address the crowd.

Thirteen nearby colleges are expected to participate – including Elmhurst College and College of DuPage. Demonstrators plan to meet at the MLK Commons.

"This is a nonpartisan event," Dillon Domke, speaker of the NIU Senate, said of the demonstration. "We've reached out to both Democrat and Republican representatives. This is in no way aimed at either Gov. Rauner, [House] Speaker [Michael] Madigan, Senate President [John] Cullerton."

Domke said students are concerned about the August halt to the state-funded Monetary Award Program. The grant helps low-income students pay college expenses. NIU credited the accounts of its students who were awarded MAP grants, and awaits reimbursement once the state has a budget. But officials at schools such as Kishwaukee College said they couldn't afford to do that for its MAP recipients.

"We want to focus on education, because there's so many people on campus that don't realize what's going on with the state budget," Domke said. "And even more so, there's over a quarter of our student population right now receiving the MAP grant funding. And there's tons of them that don't even know that there's a good chance that next semester they won't see that funding."

Community organization leaders have said the financial fallout from not having a state budget – and proposed cuts even if there were a spending plan – has meant harmful cuts to services for seniors, low-income working families, victims of domestic and sexual abuse, and others.

Ellen Rogers, interim director of DeKalb County's Voluntary Action Committee, said the nonprofit organization will bring busloads of senior citizens to demonstrate. VAC has lost $75,000 in state funding for its Meals on Wheels program.

"What we're trying to do is provide information, and that being the impact of the budget stalemate that we're experiencing with the Meals on Wheels program," Rogers said. "We have had to reduce that program because we're not longer receiving state funds for it. In many cases, we have some people where we are their meal a day."

Mary Ellen Schaid, executive director of DeKalb County-based Safe Passage, said the social service organization has had to turn away people who've come there fleeing domestic violence situations. Also, the women in the shelter have been negatively impacted by the changes in the state's day care subsidy program. Safe Passage will be among the demonstrators.

"Many of the women that come here have very young children, and they rely on day care waivers to be able to work," Schaid said. "This budget impasse is having a dramatic effect on people's ability to be safe and to be productive in the community."

The Rauner administration blames Democrats for the budget stall.

"The failed status quo in Illinois is hurting taxpayers and the state’s long-term fiscal health," said Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly. "Unfortunately, the [Democrats'] super majority in the legislature continues to block [the governor's proposed] reforms at the expense of the middle class."

Paul Borek, head of the DCEDC, could not be immediately reached for comment.