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After being booed at graduation, governor says he'd 'love to boo our system as well'

By KIM GEIGER Chicago Tribune (TNS) Published: May 17, 2017 12:00 AM

CHICAGO -- Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday was booed by Chicago State University students and their families during a commencement ceremony at the school, an outburst the governor called "negative feedback" while adding he'd "love to boo our system as well."

The university has been among those hit hardest by the ongoing state budget fight between Rauner and Democrats. The two-year impasse has left Illinois' public colleges and universities with diminished, infrequent state funding. About 400 Chicago State employees were laid off last year, which the school said was a consequence of the budget stalemate.

It also has been dogged by management troubles and financial issues that were unrelated to the state budget situation. Rauner recently helped organize a leadership shake-up.

The governor said Thursday that he attended the graduation ceremony to congratulate the students and to show support for the university's administration. When he was introduced by a Chicago State official, a chorus of boos erupted from the cap-and-gown-clad students and the audience.

At an unrelated event later in the day, Rauner gave reporters his interpretation of the outburst.

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"When I was introduced and stood up to speak, there was clapping but there was also some negative feedback," Rauner said. "And you know what, I share their frustration. This system is broken. I am totally with them. I'd love to boo our system as well. I'm not going to boo it, I'm going to change it. We're going to make it right."

After the Chicago State event, Rauner joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a Hegewisch warehouse where an auto parts manufacturer was announcing plans to create nearly 300 jobs.

Emanuel touted the deal as part of a "renaissance" for the Far South Side community. Rauner called on the General Assembly to renew a tax credit incentive program that helped lure the auto parts maker to Chicago and which has since expired.

The encounter between the Democratic mayor and Republican governor was a rare joint appearance by the two politicians who have been at odds for months after Rauner late last year vetoed legislation that would have provided a $215 million cash infusion for Chicago Public Schools. The two were polite in their encounter. Rauner thanked the mayor for his efforts in luring the auto parts company to Chicago. Emanuel initiated a handshake with Rauner after the two participated in the ribbon cutting.

Their appearance came a day after an attempt by Senate Democrats to push a sweeping budget proposal again fell flat in Springfield. On Thursday, House Republican leader Jim Durkin moved to appoint four lawmakers to work on budget issues with four Democrats named by House Speaker Michael Madigan. Lawmakers face a budget deadline at the end of May.

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Neither Rauner nor Emanuel would say when they'd last sat down to discuss the budget situation or funding for CPS. But Rauner said he had urged Emanuel Thursday to use his "influence" with Democratic lawmakers in Springfield to push through legislation that would change the way state dollars are doled out to elementary and secondary schools.

"A new funding formula will improve the funding for Chicago Public Schools," Rauner said. "The mayor should get involved in pushing to make sure that the new funding formula gets done. He has influence in the Democratic caucus. I hope he'll get involved directly. He hasn't been doing as much of that, I believe, as I would like to see."

Emanuel, for his part, said the problem was in Springfield.

"Illinois has to invest in education, and they have to also not only give all the school districts certainty -- what they can't do is have a bait and switch where they say, 'Here's what we're going to do,' and then never pay their bills," Emanuel said.

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