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Quinn vows to restore low-income student funding
Associated Press
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Published: 9/30/2009 12:04 AM

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Gov. Pat Quinn brushed off accusations from a political rival on Tuesday that he helped create the funding shortage he is now trying to fix with Illinois' largest financial aid program for college students.

The Illinois Monetary Award Program, or MAP, helps more than 200,000 Illinois students pay for college. But it faces a $200 million shortfall under state budget cuts and won't be able to fund about 140,000 low-income students in the second half of the 2009-2010 academic year.

Quinn told hundreds of students during a rally at the University of Illinois' Chicago campus that he would restore program funding. Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn's challenger in the February primary, said the Chicago Democrat signed off on the budget cuts and was being hypocritical for trying to solve the problem now.

"How do you justify laying the blame so squarely on others even though as the governor you have had the authority all along either to push to fund the program fully, or to restore funding?" Hynes, a three-term Democratic comptroller, said in a statement Tuesday.

Both Democrat and Republican leaders have said that restoring MAP funding was at the top of their agenda for a veto session next month.

Quinn dismissed Hayes' criticism, saying he inherited a "fiscal calamity" with the budget when he took over after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and ousted in January.

"We had certain fiscal needs that we had to attend to, for example Medicaid, group health insurance for the state of Illinois, adult education," he told reporters after Tuesday's rally. "There will always be ankle-biters over on the sidelines ... The comptroller wasn't part of the solution and it doesn't appear he ever will be."

Quinn said a cigarette tax could be a short term solution to restoring funding. Earlier this year, he proposed a $1 cigarette tax that he estimated would generate $365 million in revenue by its second year. A pared down bill won approval in the Illinois Senate but stalled in the House.

He said an income tax increase could help in the long term.

"The ultimate solution is that we need more revenue," he said. "This is a vital issue."

Several college students at the rally said MAP funding was crucial to their education, including Anastasia Lucas, 24, who is studying psychology at Loyola University in Chicago.

The junior has worked two jobs to make ends meet and said she took a third job in anticipation of losing her MAP grant next semester. But she said she doesn't know how long she can keep up working between 35 hours and 45 hours a week.

"If MAP grants continue to remain unfunded," she said. "I may not be able to return to Loyola."