Universities await budget decision from state

Stephanie Markham, Editor-in-Chief

Eastern faces a potential $13.85 million cut in the fiscal year 2016 budget while uncertainty remains as to what the final numbers will be and when the governor will give his approval.

Illinois Sen. Dale Righter, who represents the 55th district containing Eastern, said both Democrats and Republicans “have to be at the table” to pass a compromised budget.

While the scheduled adjournment for the General Assembly’s spring session is May 31, the chambers are in an extended session because they could not agree on a balanced budget by that date. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Righter said to avoid a government shutdown, a budget will have to be put into place by around July 7 when the comptroller is supposed to begin writing checks.

Righter, who is Republican, said he does not believe a budget will be ready by then if Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan does not compromise on the budget he introduced at the end of May.

Madigan’s budget would spend about $3 billion more than the $32 billion Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed in March.

According to the Reboot Illinois website, Madigan said Democrats publicly acknowledge that the state does not have enough money to pay for his proposed budget.

“There will be a shortfall in this budget, but we are prepared to work with the governor, negotiate with the governor to raise the money so that there is a balanced budget,” Madigan said, according to the website.

When Rauner first gave his budget address, he said his budget would eliminate $1.6 billion from next year’s deficit, though it would still leave a $6.2 billion hole.

Righter said spending more money would be “wildly irresponsible.”

“Going back to when we started the session, one of our biggest challenges was we were already facing a $6 billion deficit,” he said. “And that deficit had accumulated from years of doing exactly what this practice is, and that is spending more money than you’re taking in.”

Righter said he predicts Rauner will use his line-item veto authority to reduce some of the amounts in Madigan’s budget before signing it into law.

“He’ll start to bring the spending down to match the revenue, which is $32 billion,” Righter said. “Now the real world effect of that is that people will get less money — universities, community colleges, school districts, whatever the program is.”

Paul McCann, the interim vice president for business affairs, said Eastern has given its testimony and provided legislators with a lot of information.

“Certainly some of the things Gov. Rauner has said about the state being in financial difficulty are true,” he said. “We see it every day; they’re going to have to figure out in Springfield what direction they’re going to want to go, and then we’ll live with it.”

Rauner’s initial proposal for higher education was a 31.5 percent cut, amounting to $30.2 million for Eastern compared to fiscal year 2015’s $43.96 million.

Righter said many of the proposed cuts were made initially to “prove a point” that the state cannot afford to keep its spending promises, but the final number is up in the air at this point with the persistent partisan division.

“The people at the university understand that, but we’re getting real now,” Righter said.

McCann said he cannot begin to properly address the budget until the state makes a decision.

“The one thing I can say for sure is that it’s probably none of the numbers that are out there right now,” McCann said. “The Senate and the House passed a bill that said 6.5 percent decrease. The governor threw out 31.5 (percent); now there’s a new rumor going around that they’ve reduced that to 28.5 (percent).”

Righter said he has met with President David Glassman on a few occasions and is hopeful they will get to spend more time together this summer, including time working out budgetary concerns.

“There is outreach being made almost on a daily basis,” he said.


Stephanie Markham can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].