Illinois public colleges request sizable funding increases

November 22, 2018

Most of the state’s public universities want double-digit funding increases next year, but one member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education said that’s just not possible without additional tax hikes.

The state’s nine universities last month turned over budget requests to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The board will then approve the requests and go to lawmakers to help craft spending plans for the state’s fiscal 2020 budget.

Across the board, the universities are asking for more money. Western Illinois University wants 36 percent more.

Illinois Board of Higher Education member John Bambenek said there’s no room for an increase from the state. He said the existing state budget already is out of whack.

“(The current budget imbalance) is somewhere between 1 and 2 billion (dollars), we’ve got $8 billion of unpaid bills,” Bambenek said. “So, without extra taxes, without major tax increases, I don’t see how we can substantiate any of that.”

For the fiscal year 2020 budget that begins July 1, 2019, the University of Illinois is requesting an additional $97.9 million, or 16.5 percent more than it got this year. That’s a total of $692.5 million for the coming year.

“The request is well below the system’s peak appropriation of $804 million in fiscal year 2002, and slightly below the system’s appropriation for fiscal year 2015 when adjusted for inflation,” according to a statement from the state’s flagship university.

For next year, Western Illinois University is requesting a 36 percent increase from what it got this year. WIU trustees want $17.2 million more on top of the $47.2 million it got this year, for a total of $64.4 million.

“During … (2001 through 2018), unfunded cost increases have been incurred for utilities, Illinois Veterans Grants, CMS health insurance and other unfunded budget items,” a September WIU Board of Trustees resolution said.

Some of the university budget requests included details about various programs and projects to enhance the universities’ offerings, but Bambenek said the universities need to be honest with taxpayers after the more than two-year budget impasse that ended in 2017.

“They took some major hits,” Bambenek said. “And they want that money back for what they said (was) ‘to be made whole,’ but it’s being framed in the context of ‘well, look at all these programs we’re creating.’ Well, that doesn’t look like being made whole, that looks like expansion.”

Bambenek said there’s a lot of important issues and interests that will be vying for limited tax dollars and it will be difficult for the board to request more money from lawmakers in light of the state’s existing unbalanced budget and more than $7 billion in unpaid bills.

Southern Illinois University wants a 7 percent increase (total of $195 million). Northeastern Illinois University wants 10 percent more (total of $37.2 million). Same with Illinois State University (total of $73 million). Northern Illinois University is asking for about a 10 percent increase (total of $93.5 million).

Governors State University wants a 13 percent increase, or $2.9 million more than it got this year, for a total of $24.9 million. And Eastern Illinois University and Chicago State University didn’t return messages seeking documentation about funding requests.

All of the state’s public universities also are requesting hundreds of millions of dollars combined for capital projects.

The board is expected to take up the requests at its Dec. 4 meeting.

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