Lack of full funding hinders future university planning

Cassie Buchman, News Editor

Although Eastern received a stopgap budget in July, the university will have problems planning for the future without full funding.

After going without a budget for nearly a year, Illinois lawmakers passed a stopgap budget Gov. Bruce Rauner then signed, giving Eastern a stopgap appropriation of $12.6 million rather than its anticipated appropriation of around $38 million.

Eastern President David Glassman said as long as the stopgap funds continue to come in at a predictable measure, the university can operate.

The problem, he said, is that there cannot be any long-term planning done without full funding, which is what the university ultimately needs.

“It handicaps us (but) doesn’t jeopardize operations,” Glassman said.

The question now for the university is how to plan while spending as conservatively and prudently as possible, especially as its cash reserves are “virtually gone.”

Now, Glassman said, there is nothing to back the school up if it runs into a deficit.

State Senator Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, recently told the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees he has heard from his colleagues that Illinois might have to rely on stopgap budgets through fiscal year 2019, according to an article in The Morris Herald-News.

Glassman said though there are many legislators who believe in a grand compromise where a full budget is passed, there are others who think a compromise is too difficult to campaign with.

Senator Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the way this year has gone, this is an unfortunate possibility.

“I think Senator McGuire and I, we’re not the only ones who have that opinion,” Righter said.

Democratic candidate for state representative Dennis Malak also said more stopgap funding in place of a full budget could be a reality for Illinois, but the upcoming elections can change this, as well as a shifting legislature.

“I believe Illinoisans are fed up with how things are taking place, how legislators are currently running the state,” Malak said. “We don’t need stopgap, we need stability if we want to provide a better chance and footing for students to go to college in this state.”

The Daily Eastern News was unable to reach Republican representative Reggie Phillips for comment.

Malak said Glassman is doing what he can to make the university sustainable, even under a stopgap budget.

As someone who also works at Eastern, Malak said seeing the school without full funding is sad.

“I’ve had friends that have left,” he said. “The university is different to me. Everyone’s always walking on eggshells, very nervous.”

Although there was enough to bring back some of the employees laid off during the spring semester, with a full appropriation Glassman said he would like to bring back more.

“When the layoffs took place, (employees) weren’t laid off because we did not need them,” Glassman said. “They were laid off because the state gave us $12 million instead of $40 million.”

Malak said it breaks his heart to see employees doing two or three people’s jobs because of a short staff, but everyone is doing the best they can to help each other and Eastern, Malak said.

Because of the budget impasse, there was also a hiring freeze and a limit on travel.

Righter said there is always discussion and negotiations going on regarding funding, even if the General Assembly is not in session.

The General Assembly is not scheduled to be back in session until November.

However, the first real opportunity for funding will be when the General Assembly comes back after the upcoming elections, Righter said.

He added that it is not the time of year the assembly is usually in session.

“It’s a practical matter,” he said. “People are campaigning, they don’t think of anything until then, not as far as a budget resolution.

He said Gov. Bruce Rauner is continually speaking to and meeting with Republicans and Democrats, and Democrats and Republicans are talking to one another as well.

“It goes on all the time,” Righter said.

Righter said Illinois needs basic reforms to help revitalize it before full funding can be achieved, such as a balanced budget, which he said Gov. Bruce Rauner has never seen sent to his desk.

“You have to start with a balanced budget,” Righter said.

Though Malak also said Rauner has not seen a balanced budget, he added that the governor has the power to go through and line item certain parts of the budget to balance it.

“Could the legislator have worked harder to balance the budget?” Malak asked. “Yes, but as I’ve told everybody, I’m sick of the blame game. We need to get down to actual results and fixes.”

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