Daily Egyptian

Illinois budget impasse ends, which Dunn says returns ‘stability’ to SIU

By Marnie Leonard and Brian Muñoz

The Illinois House voted Thursday to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget package veto, giving the state its first budget after more than two historic years of impasse.

The spending plan includes a 32 percent permanent income tax increase, hiking the rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. It provides over $36 billion in funding for social services and primary, secondary and higher education.

In a statement issued Thursday, SIU President Randy Dunn said the passage of a budget will allow the university to return to financial stability.

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“With the veto override and the enactment of a full budget, SIU’s campuses can return their full focus to the most important thing we do — educating the leaders of tomorrow,” Dunn said.

Since the start of the stalemate in Springfield, the university has faced a series of budget cuts, layoffs and other issues resulting from the financial uncertainty at the state level.

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell announced a plan in May to cut $19 million from the university budget, including potential layoffs and reductions to campus departments and student work opportunities. This announcement came as a response to a proposal from Dunn in March that the university cut at least $30 million in spending due to funding instability from state lawmakers.

In April, national credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s reduced the university’s credit to junk status, attributing the decline to the budget impasse.

If Illinois lawmakers failed to enact a budget, state universities could potentially lose as much as $4 billion in federal funds, Dunn said.

“That is a high stakes proposition,” Dunn said in the interview with NPR Illinois. “Without the federal accreditation, we have no access to federal financial aid.”

The University Museum closed indefinitely July 1 as a direct result of the impasse, reducing staff to one person who will maintain the current museum collections.

A non-academic prioritization committee appointed by Colwell also released a report in January that identified long-term cash-saving measures as a way to make budget adjustments that align with a lower level of state support.

These efficiencies were intended to be implemented regardless of the state budget status, and include possibly cutting off state funding to campus units like the University Press, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.

The uncertainty over the state financial situation has also impacted the university’s ongoing search to find a permanent chancellor. The position has been occupied on an interim basis since 2014 when Rita Cheng left to become president of Northern Arizona University.

Over the course of the eight-month search, four candidates dropped out of the running, some citing fiscal concerns at the campus and state level. This has left Colwell and Carlo Montemagno as the sole contenders. Montemagno is currently a professor in engineering, chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

Dunn is acting as chancellor until the next regularly scheduled Board of Trustees meeting July 13, at which time the board intends to select a candidate to fill the position.

In May, the Board of Trustees voted to move forward on a plan to loan up to $35 million from SIU-Edwardsville to the cash-strapped Carbondale campus despite concerns voiced by SIUE faculty members that the Carbondale campus had not made the appropriate budgetary reductions in the face of the state financial crisis.

Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, who represents the district in which the university is located, was one of 15 GOP House members to break ranks with Rauner and Republican Party leadership to vote in favor of the budget package. Following the vote, she said the decision was difficult but cited concern for SIU as one her primary reasons for supporting the spending plan.

Bryant said her vote may affect her re-election chances but she considered it the best course of action for her district. 

Dunn’s statement included praise for Bryant and other legislators who voted in favor of the budget.

“Effective governance is about making tough decisions,” Dunn said. “We thank those legislators who stood with SIU, our 30,000 students and 7,000 employees, throughout this budget impasse.”

Campus editor Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

Photography editor Brian Muñoz can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @brianmmunoz.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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