Legislators considering university budgeting changes

By Gus Bode

a href=”https://www.dailyegyptian.com/contactus.html”bDE Staff Reporter/b/abrspan class=”realsmall”bDaily Egyptian/b/span

Legislators considering university budgeting changes

Illinois House passes bill for more scrutiny of university budgets

Advertisement

Springfield lawmakers are eyeing a couple of options aimed at keeping public university budgets in check and under closer watch.

One of the most recent steps includes a bill the Illinois House unanimously approved last week that calls for state funds to be appropriated by the category of expenditure rather than lump sums, which doles out one fixed amount to universities.

“We’re trying to make the universities more accountable,” said Rep. Kurt Granberg, D-Carlyle, the bill’s sponsor. “Right now, they’re given a lump sum.”

Under the new bill, a separate line item would exist in appropriated budgets for items such as commodities and travel, he said.

“It helps us track how the universities are spending their money,” Granberg said.

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said the measure would give a clearer picture of how appropriated funds are spent and provides legislators with the same information that the Illinois Board of Higher Education receives from public universities.

Although lawmakers have access to the budget figures, IBHE would work with universities to provide more details to Springfield during the budget planning process.

Advertisement

A different bill, which the Senate is reviewing, would require even more detailed spending. Under this bill, funding is put into four categories – administration, instruction, civil service and research – each with a breakdown of spending expenditures.

Granberg said he is working with Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office to look for the best option before the Senate votes on a bill that would change university budgeting.

Although Granberg’s bill received unanimous support,

there are indications that the other piece of legislation might not be as widely popular if it goes up for a vote in the Senate.

Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, stopped short of saying he would vote against the bill, but noted that universities are often the best judges of how to spend their appropriations.

“I’ll take a serious look at it,” he said. “(Universities) know more than me what their needs are. This would take a lot of decision-making from them.”

State legislators used a line-item system before 1999, but moved away from that type of budgeting to give universities more freedom, he said.

“We got away from that with the idea of giving them more flexibility,” he said. “They knew more than we did.”

Universities are not necessarily opposed to line-item budgeting – only the limits it may place on flexibility, said Don Sevener, IBHE spokesman.

Chancellor Walter Wendler said any bill that encourages scrutiny is welcomed, as long as legislators realize errors in university budget planning sometimes need to be fixed. For example, an administrator could easily miscalculate the year’s utility costs while planning the budget, he said.

“I am very favorably disposed towards any legislation that genuinely favors accountability,” Wendler said.

“We also need the flexibility to make mistakes and be accountable for our mistakes.

“My concern is that if there is too much detailed analysis, we may not be able to make a mistake.”

Reporter Ben Botkin can be reached at [email protected]

Advertisement