Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to boost funding for college students might come at the cost of significant cuts.
At his budget address Wednesday in Springfield, Quinn told legislators he plans to refrain from cutting higher education spending and increase grants for students in the next fiscal year. Much of his speech, though, focused on his idea to cut Medicaid spending, change the state’s government pension systems and close state facilities, including one in Murphysboro and one in Carbondale.
“This budget contains truths that you may not want to hear,” Quinn told the legislators.
In Quinn’s $33.8-billion budget, he did not make cuts to higher education. In both 2010 and 2011, SIU received less state funding than the previous year, which caused administrators to make cuts on campus.
Chancellor Rita Cheng said she was relieved to hear cuts for universities weren’t proposed.
“There are definitely significant cutbacks and really hard decisions that are going to have to be made overall, and higher education has been spared in many regards,” she said.
Quinn also proposed a $50-million increase in Monetary Award Program funding to provide more college students with grants. Cheng said there are about 4,400 students who recieve MAP funding at SIU, but almost 1,200 more could have had MAP grants last spring if the fund hadn’t been depleted.
SIU President Glenn Poshard said the MAP funding is a big issue for SIU.
“It would make more students eligible, meaning that hopefully it would help open the door a little bit to those middle- and
low-income students that need help,” he said.
Cheng said an increase in MAP funding means there will be more students who can afford to enroll and stay at SIU, which can benefit the state because the university ensures that graduates are prepared for jobs.
Although increased MAP funding would be good for students, State Senator Dave Luechtefeld said it might be hard to accomplish with an overall budget deficit.
“I think there are a lot of legislators whose eyebrows would go up, because it’s hard to say we’re in debt almost to the point where we’re bankrupt and then in the next breath say we’re going to increase spending,” he said. “That just doesn’t fit together.”
Pensions and Medicaid
While education was a priority of Quinn’s for increased funding, the governor proposed cuts or reform in many areas, including Medicaid and pensions. His proposal includes a $2.7-million cut in Medicaid spending, and calls for reform of the state’s pension systems.
Quinn said for the past three years the state has paid the minimum it can for pension costs. Additionally, he said, 90 percent of retirees pay nothing on their health insurance premiums.
“This lack of fiscal accountability has cost us dearly today,” he said.
This year’s general-revenue fund payment for public pensions is $5.2 billion, he said, which is three times as much as it was in 2008. Today, he said, pension payments make up 15 percent of the state funds.
“For these reductions to work, we must also stabilize and strengthen our public-pensions systems once and for all,” he said.
Last year, Poshard said legislation would affect pensions of employees hired after Jan. 1. This spring, he said, the reform is intended to grapple with issues surrounding pensions of the employees who were already employed.
“That’s going to be more difficult, because these are employees who may have 25, 30 years already in service,” he said. “You’re going to change the system on these people, so that’s going to be highly controversial.”
Poshard said there is a law that states a person’s present retirement benefit cannot be diminished, but he said the law will affect future employees.
Cheng said there has been talk among legislators of a shared solution for pension costs, which she said means the employer, or SIU, will likely be asked to pick up some of the costs of employee pensions.
“The concern is that we’ll have to cut some other expenditures in order to fund pensions, which means we’ll be cutting back again,” she said.
Cheng said if the university has to take on extra pension costs, there may not be extra money for other programs on campus.
“I was hoping to go into next year without having a budget cut,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been cutting budgets, and it would be really nice not to have to do that.”
Cheng said every SIU employee is covered under the state pension plans.
There is an $83-million shortfall of funding for the state’s pension system. Quinn said a pension-working group will provide a possible solution by April 17.
Quinn also announced the closure of 14 state facilities and consolidation or closure of 59 others. He announced the closure of The Southern Illinois Adult Transition Center in Carbondale, which, according to the proposed budget, has 17 employees and 65 inmates, and will save $1.3 million in its closure. The Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro, which has 91 employees and 59 juveniles, will save the state $6.8 million with its closure.
The Illinois State Police Forensic Lab in Carbondale, which has 17 employees, will be consolidated, he said, with the new facility being built in Belleville, and 20 state police communications centers will be consolidated to four, including the Du Quoin center. A family-transition center in Carbondale will also be consolidated.
“These consolidations and closures are hard but necessary,” Quinn said. “They impact every region in our state, but the need for lower spending in our budget gives us no choice.”
Luechtefeld said he hopes that does not happen. Although he said it would have been hard for Quinn to give a positive budget address, he said the announcement of closing facilities disturbed him.
He said the closures could add up to more than 130 job losses.
“Those are all pretty good jobs, and obviously it will not be good for the area if that happens,” he said.