Daily Egyptian

Rauner signs $600M stopgap bill for higher education, SIU to see nearly $58M from state

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Gov. Bruce Rauner. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Gov. Bruce Rauner. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Gov. Bruce Rauner. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Daily Egyptian campus desk

Illinois colleges and universities will see money from the state for the first time since the budget impasse began in July.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill Monday morning that gives him spending authority to provide $600 million for public higher education and low-income student grant aid. The SIU system will receive nearly $58 million for operational costs — 30 percent of the money the university was supposed to receive this fiscal year.

“This legislation doesn’t solve our budget crisis or help our economy grow, but it does represent a first step toward compromise between Democrats and Republicans,” Rauner wrote in a news release. “Now is the time to build on this bipartisan momentum and focus on enacting a truly balanced budget for Fiscal Years 2016-2017 alongside meaningful reforms that create jobs and free up resources for education, social services and infrastructure.”

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SIU President Randy Dunn on WSIU Public Radio said the bill is not the “be all and end all in terms of state support for higher education.”

“I wasn’t in the backroom where all this was getting determined — nor was any president — but the thinking around this seems to be that with this bridge or stopgap funding, it would allow the universities to carry themselves through to fall when all of us then start to have local revenue coming in from tuition and fees,” Dunn told WSIU’s Jennifer Fuller. “Now this is where enrollment — particularly at Carbondale — gets so important, as where we’re challenged on enrollment that hurts local revenue and basically shortens the time we can live on local revenue until an overall grand bargain to this state budget is figured out. But we take our winds where we get them.”

While the measure, approved by state lawmakers on Friday, does buy the university some time, Dunn said it does not “get rid of our cuts or reductions” that were announced March 9, which would eliminate 180 faculty and staff and cut programs and services by nearly $23 million if Rauner’s fiscal year 2017 budget passes.

“But [this] does push [those cuts] back on the shelf and holds those very draconian cuts in advance for some time until we see how the overall budget situation then plays out from here,” Dunn told Fuller. “The worry is that this is all we could see for FY16.”

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. 

“It buys everybody some time,” SIU President Randy Dunn said Friday. “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.”

This will also provide 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.

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,'” Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said. “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.”

The SIU system is still 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.”

Luke Nozicka, Cory Ray and Bill Lukitsch contributed to this report.

The Daily Egyptian’s campus desk can be reached at 618-536-3325 or [email protected]

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