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Shaky ground: University leaders fear Rauner budget another step back


WIULess than a year after a bipartisan state budget deal restored some semblance of stability for the state’s public universities and colleges, school leaders say Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget proposal could be a devastating financial blow to their recovery.

Rauner wants to dump state retirement costs back on the universities as part of a four-year plan to shift $2 billion worth of state costs onto public schools, universities and colleges. The practical result would be layoffs and program cuts along with potentially higher tuition for students.

That's the last thing university communities want to hear after what they've been through in recent years.

“During the financial impasse, I commonly said to people who asked how the university was doing, I would say ‘The lights are on, the doors are open,’ said North Eastern Illinois University Vice President for Administration and Finance, Michael Pierick. “If this cost were shifted without funding to cover most of it during a period of transition, I'm not sure if I could say that the lights were on and the doors were open.”

Other university leaders had similar testimony before a Senate committee during a Capitol hearing this past week.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz told the committee that Rauner’s proposal “would have a very negative effect on our budget and staffing levels.”

The state’s university system went two years with no state funding during Rauner’s budget standoff with lawmakers. It cost schools millions of dollars, resulted in thousands of lost jobs and sent more than 70,000 students out of state to continue their education.

Those cuts have had huge economic impacts not only on the schools, but also in the surrounding communities, appoint the university leaders sought to stress with lawmakers.

Eastern Illinois University President David Glassman reminded the budget panel that his institution “is a revenue center, not a cost center for the state of Illinois.”

As a result of the Rauner budget standoff, Eastern Illinois University had to lay off more than 250 workers and the university’s total workforce is down 440 jobs.

The effects of those cuts aren’t contained just on the campus. A recently commission economic impact study found that by the effects of lost wages, reduced enrollment and reduced student spending were added up, the region around EIU lost $68 million during the state budget impasse.

Other universities reported similar situations.

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