Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MAP grants are not getting adequate funding

For my second reaction paper, I will be discussing my feelings on the lack of MAP Grant funding in Illinois for the 2016-2017 school year.  The 2016-2017 school year is supposed to be the year I graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work.  As a MAP Grant recipient, I am absolutely terrified that, because of the budget impasse in Illinois, MAP Grants will not be funded for the next school year. 

The Senate, House, and Governor Rauner have yet to come to an agreement on a state budget as of this writing.  Because of this, many social service agencies have closed, countless people have become unemployed, public universities are in jeopardy of shutting down without funding. It would be easy to construct a vast list of other negative effects of the budget impasse.  It is my understanding that Governor Rauner has proposed a state budget that would ultimately give him the ability to decide to move money around to different services as he deems necessary.  Of course, the House and Senate will not agree to this as giving control to Governor Rauner removes their own control of the state’s money allocation.  

Many attempts have been made to create a budget that is a suitable compromise for the branches of government previously listed.  However, each of these proposals have been rejected, still leaving us without a budget nearly nine months into the fiscal year.  While I had been following the budget crisis, it had not personally affected me until Governor Rauner vetoed a bill to fund MAP Grants.  

I have no idea if I will be able to finish my schooling next year.  I do not feel comfortable taking out even more students loans than I currently have to finish paying for my schooling when loans will most likely be necessary to pay for my master’s degree that I plan to enroll in after graduating from UIS.  I work at a job that I cannot afford to pay my bills without working overtime. I am not complaining about this; I just do not want to have to do this for the rest of my life.  

After Rauner vetoed the bill, a veto override failed by a mere two votes.  Now, instead of working on new proposals for the state budget, lawmakers are on “break”.  How many employers do you know that allow their employees to take an extended break when their primary job duties have not been fulfilled? It is absurd to me!  If MAP Grants are not funded, thousands of students will not be able to attend school next year, leaving universities with fewer students and less revenue.  Community colleges are funded through the MAP Grant and will be at risk of closing as well. 

Yes, I understand MAP Grants cost the state government a large amount of money.  However, MAP Grants are an investment.  MAP Grants allow students, such as myself, who would not otherwise be able to afford it, to attend college and earn a degree.  Degrees are crucial to obtaining a job that a person can live comfortably on.  If there are less college graduates (or even less universities to attend), who will fill the positions that require a college degree?  Would less qualified people be filling these positions?  Having under qualified employees in degree-required positions could lead to problems with companies’ productivity and profits.  The list can go on and on for negative effects caused by MAP Grants not being funded. 

Lawmakers need to get back to work from their vacation and come to an agreement on a budget, and make sure that budget funds higher education.  Higher education is a critical part to America’s economy.  I have already written about this topic to Governor Rauner and my Representative, Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, explaining my personal situation and the great impact that no funding for MAP Grants would cause to not only myself, but the entire state (and eventually even further).

I am glad you have written to Sara, our Representative in the General Assembly.
According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, the funding for MAP grants in FY 2014 was about $372 million, and about 136,000 students received aid.  Another 160,000 eligible applications for MAP funding were turned down for assistance due to lack of funding, so clearly this policy could reach full power if it were funded at about $800 million per year.

Keeping our state spending at levels we had in FY 2014 and 2015 would create a tremendous deficit, because the temporary increase in the flat income tax went away at the beginning of 2015.  I think there is a structural deficit of about $6.5 billion between what the General Assembly wants to spend and the revenue it takes in with taxes.  We could extend income taxes to retirement income over $50,000 per year and take in over a billion.  We could raise the flat income tax to 5% and increase standard deductions to make it a less burdensome tax to low-income persons and raise another $4 billion or so.  We could add a sales tax to many services and raise another $1 billion.  We might even be able to cut a few hundred million by encouraging greater efficiency in some state agencies or in higher education, or by legalizing marijuana and taxing it.  We could also probably survive a cut in spending of a billion or two billion.  At any rate, it would be possible to get rid of the state’s structural deficit by raising some taxes and cutting some spending.

However, as things stand now, the Republicans say they will not support new taxes.  The Democrats say they will not raise taxes unless some Republicans cross over to vote for higher taxes.  The Governor says he will not support any net increase in taxes (increase in revenue) unless his “Turnaround Agenda” is passed, and at least three of the five items on that agenda will never be passed by the General Assembly so long as Democrats hold majorities in it.  This is the nature of the impasse.  If Democrats would raise taxes without insisting on Republicans going along with them, and then would override the Governor’s veto, we could get a state budget.  However, a couple (or at least one) of the Democrats in the General Assembly won’t go along with that.  If some Republicans would cross over and present a mix of tax increases and budget cuts they could support, and then vote along with Democrats to override the Governor’s inevitable veto, that could also get us out of the budget stalemate.  If the Governor gave up on his turn-around agenda and worked with the Democrats in the General Assembly to create a compromise budget with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, and left aside his turn-around agenda for the time being, that would also solve the problem.  The Democrats could also give up and just let the Governor do whatever he wants, and that would get us a budget, but the Democrats won’t do that.

Will the Governor give up and compromise with the Democrats?  If you think that this could happen, you ought to continue putting pressure on the Governor?  Will some Republicans cross over to work with the Democrats to create a budget and a plan for some spending cuts and some revenue increases (new or higher taxes)?  If you think this is plausible, you ought to be talking with Republicans in the General Assembly, so it is a very good thing that you have been communicating with Sara.

Some sorts of public spending works like investments to increase long-term growth.  MAP grants are exactly that sort of spending.  MAP grants really ought to be funded at $800 million per year in Illinois, and it is a travesty that they are not.  

No comments: