Thursday, March 14, 2013

Eastern Illinois University
looking for flat funding

By Jamey Dunn

After Gov. Pat Quinn asked for a 5 percent reduction in higher education spending, the first university to appeal to lawmakers during the budgeting process asked to avoid cuts.

For the past several years, funding for higher education has remained both static and slow in coming. The state delayed higher education payments owed to universities because it did not have the money to immediately pay them. Universities have been waiting in line for payments, as have K-12 schools, Medicaid providers and vendors that provided services to Illinois. With this in mind, Eastern Illinois University’s president, William Perry, said he came to the Capitol attempting to show good faith by asking to keep the university’s general state funding at the same level as last year, about $44 million.

Eastern is also asking for $80 million in capital funding to build a science center on campus. Perry said the university increased student fees to cover some of the construction costs. This request was not included in Gov. Quinn’s proposed budget, according to his office.

Perry said the university is trying to control its own costs by reducing some administrative positions. He also noted that students voluntarily increased some campus fees to raise money for a portion of the proposed building’s estimated cost. He said EIU has simply worked around the state’s delayed payments and that its first priority was continuing to offer its degree opportunities to students in a tightening fiscal climate. “The quality of our programs has not been diminished, so we’re managing it,” he said. Perry said the university had to pre-plan for some uncertainty with various sources of funding. “As with any state agency, you do what you can with where you are, and if state funding goes down, we’ll figure out a way to work with it and manage it,” he said.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said he was grateful the university “did their homework” and did not ask for extra appropriations from the state budget. “Unfortunately, we're in a really difficult position financially,” he said. "We are going to do our best to make sure that [avoiding cuts] happens. Education can't keep taking these hits that it has,” he said. “What is realistic is the level of support for funding, a stable level of funding for education."

Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, said the pension issue was a "missing" piece to the discussion that would crowd out funding for items such as higher education if not properly addressed. “To be brutally honest, if the pension payment keeps going up … each year, it’s not just higher education, it’s everything [facing cuts],” he said.

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