Phillips talks Eastern funding during traveling office hours

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Dominic Baima

Illinois Rep. Reggie Phillips (left) discusses the budget crisis with Kimberlee Feltt (right), a Charleston resident, Tuesday during his traveling office hours at the Lerna Village Hall in Lerna, Ill. Phillips heard from several members of the Eastern staff and several Charleston residents. Phillips said that being allowed to borrow against future appropriations would be the best solution for Eastern right now.

Cassie Buchman, Associate News Editor

Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, had office hours Tuesday in Lerna to talk about Eastern’s financial crisis and to answer constituents’ questions.

Because of the inability of Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly to agree on how to fund the state, public universities in Illinois have not seen appropriations for eight months.

Phillips said he represents the people’s voice in Springfield, and he has been working two or three ways with the Rauner.

Kimberlee Feltt, a Charleston resident, told Phillips she did not care about the political stuff she was seeing in Springfield.

“I want to see change, and I want to see stuff happen,” Feltt said. “What are you going to do to make sure that I have a roof over my head, that my husband has a paycheck in three months?”

Phillips said he has been asking Rauner to let Eastern borrow the money it needs to operate, and he thinks Eastern getting a loan of $24 million was the best idea to solve the financial crisis.

“That’s not going to work,” Feltt said. “What’s our credit rating? It’s terrible.”

Phillips said the credit rating does not matter; the university can still get the loan, which would get the university through six months.

“What’s the alternative if we don’t get it?” Feltt asked.

Phillips said he has told the governor he will alert the media if Eastern is not allowed to get a loan.

While Feltt later said she did not have anything against Phillips personally, she said it is terrifying to be in this financial situation.

Phillips was not in Springfield to vote on a bill for providing funding for community colleges and Monetary Award Program grants Thursday.

Phillips said he was not there because of “personal business,” but this will not happen again.

Phillips said he was told the bill was a hoax, but even so he will be present for the next vote.

The question was raised of whether or not Rauner still wanted to have Eastern around, and Phillips said he absolutely does.

He said he has the ears of Rauner and the legislature to encourage them to give Eastern funding.

“My No. 1 priority is EIU,” Phillips said.

Several people noted the investment they made in Eastern and Charleston as a whole.

Feltt said she eats, shops and lives in Charleston.

Someone brought up the point that the inactivity of the state legislature and fighting over agendas made it hard to have faith.

“I don’t really give a rat’s banana about our agenda right now,” Phillip said. “What I’d like to have right now is funding.”

During these office hours, Phillips said he would be at the Fund EIU rally, which will be 4 p.m. Friday in the Library Quad.

He said the budget impasse would come to an end and Eastern will survive but that it is going to be tough.

“I can’t tell you what that’s going to hold,” Phillips said.

Cay Kolling, a program assistant from Information Technology Services, said it was like there was no human factor when it comes to the financial crisis.

“Look at all of these social services that have closed and had to stop giving services and assisting people,” Kolling said. “We have lost already so much good, young talent at EIU. Are parents still going to want to send their children to EIU?”

Kolling said it was now a case of “my ego vs. your ego” and legislators have forgotten the person in the fight.

Phillips said he has seen what was going on at Eastern from 2006 to 2008 and attempted to get in with former Eastern President Bill Perry, and volunteered to be in groups for improvements but no one got back to him.

“They didn’t want us in there trying to say wait a minute, we need to change our programs,” Phillips said.

He said he is meeting with current President David Glassman to get new programs, and he has met with people who have said Faculty Senate being in control is why there are no new programs.

“As long as Faculty Senate has the strength and the power over Eastern, then there has to be someone who says enough,” Phillips said. “Change the programs, bring the students in.”

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]