Various community leaders talked about the lack of a state budget and how it would affect Charleston and surrounding areas in a press conference Tuesday.
President David Glassman said the impact of the budget impasse goes well beyond the scope of the students and has the potential to jeopardize the economic vitality of both the region and state as a whole for generations to come.
He said students were the primary drivers of the economic activity Eastern generates as they go to restaurants, entertainment venues and more.
The university employs about 1500 full-time employees.
Glassman said some of the individuals laid off had worked at Eastern for 25 years or more, and in some cases both husbands and wives were given notices.
“(They) know have to face a future with zero paychecks, rather than two,” Glassman said.
Charleston Mayor Brandon Combs said any trouble that comes Eastern’s way is personal to the community.
Combs said when people get laid off, they start watching their wallets more closely and they cut their spending habits.
“These layoffs hurt,” Combs said. “Most of those laid off rely on their income to provide for their families. Some of those laid off dedicated their entire careers to EIU. Some of those will be sorely missed as a familiar, friendly face from students who are far from home.”
He said some may even leave, and many are scared and frustrated that the situation has gotten to this point.
“I hope we see this as an opportunity to come together as a community and not to allow finger pointing and blame to divide us,” Combs said.
He said to keep representing Eastern in a positive light.
Cindy White, president and CEO of the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce, said she honestly felt that the community is in a state of near-crisis.
“The double-whammy of our university with no budget and declining enrollment has created devastating effects on our community, our businesses, our families, our university and our people,” White said.
White said the university impacts the community through employing people who spend money in the community, increasing tax generation and enhancing human capital, since they develop student’s skills.
Rep. Reggie Phillips said he has been working to get funding to Eastern by co-sponsoring HB 6409, which would give $160 million of emergency funding from the General Revenue Fund to the Board of Higher education.
This bill would not take effect at all unless SB 3044 becomes law.
Phillips said he has been trying to circumvent all that is going on to get a funding mechanism.
He said he did not want to continue to make promises when there is no money.
Biology professor Kai Hung, a member of the University Professionals of Illinois, said the 177 civil service personnel who had been laid off were more than just a number.
“These are my colleagues. These are my friends. These are my neighbors. These are the people we see at grocery stores and at church,” Hung said.
He said many of these people have deep roots in the community and have been thrown into chaos because of the budget situation.
“Gov. Rauner is willing to allow our economy to suffer,” Hung said. “This is collateral damage. But what about our students?”
He said the governor is taking away people’s money, their livelihood and their community.
Hung called it shortsighted and dangerous to diminish the capacity to produce well-trained citizens and a well-trained workforce.
Hung said it was not enough to rely on cuts and exploring an expansion of revenue streams would be necessary as well.
“Schools like EIU have done our share to cut back on spending,” Hung said. “It is time Springfield and Gov. Rauner did their job.”
Hung said they need to pass a budget right now, to the audience’s applause.
Andrew Donsbach, a senior marketing major, spoke about his experiences working with the Holiday Hustle, a run that benefits One Stop Community Christmas that provides food, clothing, blankets, books and toys to families in the area who cannot get those things themselves.
For the past three years, they partnered with the Office of Community Service to give them funding for necessities that go along with the race.
However, this year, they were not able to provide funding as they had in the past.
They were still able to raise all the money themselves.
“Regardless of what we’re faced with here at EIU, whether we be students, faculty or staff, EIU members of this community, when faced with adversity, don’t give up,” Donsbach said.
Sen. Dale Righter said this impasse is a result of what has been happening in Springfield for almost 20 years.
“The year end, year out, spending more money every year than the taxpayers can afford,” Righter said.
Righter said is supportive of HB6409 and the attachment bill SB3044, and people cannot ask for a bill they cannot pay for.
He said the attachments were ways to pay for the bill by finding money somewhere else or changing the system.
“The day where we can simply write a check and worry about covering it later is gone,” Righter said. “We have to pay for what we say we’re going to spend.”
Righter said the money would have to be paid back at some point, but the bills introduced today are not long-term solutions.
“If we can’t find a long-term solution, then let’s find a short-term solution and work on a long-term solution,” Righter said.
Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]