University state funding remains unclear

Debby Hernandez, Administration Editor

Eastern might face up to a 30 percent decrease in budget funding during the next fiscal year, Fall 2016, depending on what Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner’s administration decides on higher education budget.

President Bill Perry said the governor must still gather all information from places that are state funded before presenting a budget in the spring.

“We have not received anything from the governor’s office with any specific instructions,” Perry said.

Paul McCann, the interim vice president for business affairs and treasurer, said the 30 percent arrived from a possible decrease in the university budget from this academic year and next year.

“Is it 10 percent this year, and another 20 percent next year?” McCann asked. “It’s not clear, and nobody has stepped up to give us the answer to that.”

The governor and his administration do not determine the budget alone; Congress’ appropriated committees for higher education also play part, Perry said.

“The development of the state budget is a political process that involves the governor’s office of management and budget, (and Congress) and their constituents,” Perry said. “All universities, community colleges, k-12, state agencies, everyone comes and testifies before the committees as to the budget.”

McCann said until specifics from the government are given, the university would continue to be conservative in expenditures.

“All these conservative measures are important in an environment where state funding is variable,” McCann said.  “It’s still too early to know where the budget is going to end up.”

Perry said there are three main issues, which could affect the budget.

One of the issues includes the issue with personal income tax and personal income tax.

“We know that at the end of December, the previous increase drops off,” Perry said. “What is unknown is whether in the legislative session in the spring, they will try to bring some of that back, and if they do, of course, that would help fill a budget hole.”

Another issue is pensions and whether the Supreme Court in Illinois will declare the legislation unconstitutional.

“If that doesn’t get resolved, then one of the potential things downstream is that universities, k-12, and other entities in the retirement system would have to start bearing some of normal costs of the pension system,” Perry said.

The third issue surrounding the university budget is minimum wage.

“That would have impact in universities in terms of student workers,” Perry said.

He said, however, cuts in the budget are not new, since former Governor Pat Quinn had asked for about a 20 percent decrease in higher education in the last session, which resulted in smaller cuts than expected.

“There are many moving parts in this budget process that we have to remember, scenarios that are put out there may bear no reality at all to what the final outcome is,” Perry said.

He said the university will push stable funding, and will not make drastic increases.

“We will not respond to cuts in state appropriations by drastically raising tuition,” Perry said.

McCann said the university expects additional savings through attrition for the spring semester.

“The biggest thing we still got, there will be additional people leaving and additional people not replaced,” McCann said. “We will have to see what the legislature takes up.”

To help with budget costs this academic year, Eastern’s capital reserve for a new science building was used.

“We had set aside about $9 million, which was to be used for the development of construction for a new science building,” McCann said. “That project couldn’t start without a significant amount of state funding.”

McCann said the university had three years to use the money for a new science building, but those three years passed without starting the project because of lack of state funding.

“We had every good intention when we put that money aside, we all thought there was potential,” he said. “The president really pushed to make it happen in Springfield, but it didn’t.”

The money is now being put into other uses, such as helping fund the deficit and make improvements.

“The reason for reserves is so if you do have budget decreases, you can judiciously conservatively used your reserves,” Perry said. “That fee is also to be used to improve current facilities in the biological science building and the physical science building.”

Perry said the university has been consistent.

“Enrollment has been cyclical, budgets have been cyclical, and we always come through stronger,” Perry said.  “As we move forward in future fiscal environment, we will move forward regardless.”

Debby Hernandez can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].