Daily Egyptian

SIU to possibly see first state funding in the budget crisis

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Cory Ray, @coryray_DE

The state may soon money provide colleges and universities with money for the first time since the budget impasse began in July.

State lawmakers approved a measure Friday that would give the governor spending authority to provide $600 million for public higher education and low-income student grant aid. The SIU system would receive nearly $58 million for operational costs — 30 percent of the money the university was supposed to receive this fiscal year.

The legislation marked the first sign of bipartisan support for a higher education funding measure since the state’s budget impasse began in July, passing the House 106-2 and in the Senate 55-0. The bill is a stopgap measure designed to fill the hole in funding for a short amount of time. 

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“It buys everybody some time,” said SIU President Randy Dunn. “We now have to turn around, go back and continue to seek the full amount of fiscal year 2016 state support that we would typically anticipate getting for a year.”

Dunn said if the bill is signed, SIUC will see about 60 percent of the $58 million.  

The bill also provides almost $170 million for the state’s Monetary Award Program, a low-income grant given to college students statewide. The program received $373 million in fiscal year 2015, which is a difference of $203 million or 54 percent.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has yet to sign the bill, but is expected to do so following amendments made in the House. Rauner’s press secretary Catherine Kelly said Thursday the General Assembly should “move the agreement to the Governor’s desk without delay.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan rallied the rank-and-file Democrats to pass the measure Friday with hope the emergency relief would be a benchmark in a continued push toward a more comprehensive funding. 

“I am hopeful the governor sees the funding in this higher education package not as a solution, but as emergency assistance to those most in need,” House Speaker Michael Madigan said.

All local legislators in the districts that encompass SIU voted to approve the measure and begin a cash-flow for the university. 

“We can only hope to stop the bleeding with this ‘band aid,'” said Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. “There are no real winners with today’s budget bill, only a sliver of relief is being provided.”

Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said he voted for the measure because SIU is in a “crisis situation.”  

“Jobs are at stake, our young people’s education is at stake, and I will not stand by and let this happen,” Forby said. “State schools need state funding. Period.”

Even if Rauner signs this bill, the university system will still be about $140 million short of what Dunn expected it to receive from the state for fiscal year 2016. 

“We heard from legislators on both sides of the aisle — Republicans and Democrats — that this is intended to be only a short-term fix, and that everyone is committed to coming back and getting [fiscal year 2016] funding,” Dunn said. “We’re going to hold their feet to the fire on that pledge.”

Bill Lukitsch contributed to this report.

Cory Ray can be reached at 618-536-3325 or [email protected]

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