I’ve done some cursory research and I want to let everyone know what I think happened today in Springfield. Before I get into the data, I will concede that the funding approved today is clearly an improvement over no appropriation. However, the action of the Illinois State Legislature and Governor should spur no celebration. It’s not time to party because public higher education in Illinois is still very much at risk.
In essence, today’s legislation cuts funding for public higher education in the state by 71 percent from 2015 levels. If the legislature does not provide additional appropriations for fiscal 2016, the state universities will have received about $337 million in state appropriations, compared to the $1.175 billion they got in fiscal 2015.
Not surprisingly, Bruce Rauner is delighted with the “bipartisan” compromise that produced this legislation. After all, even the draconian cuts to higher education he proposed in February 2015 totaled around $849 million, a 27.8 percent decrease for fiscal 2016. Simple arithmetic reveals that the legislature funded the state universities at roughly 40 percent of Rauner’s proposed 72 percent funding level. Who wins here? Rauner must be dancing with joy.
Here’s what universities got today compared to what Rauner offered them in February 2015:
Chicago State, $20.17 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $27.06 million.
Governors State, $6.97 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $16.86 million.
Eastern Illinois, $12.46 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $30.1 million.
Western Illinois, $14.9 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $36.07 million.
Northeastern Illinois, $10.695 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $25.86 million.
Northern Illinois, $26.4 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $64.9 million.
Southern Illinois, $57.5 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $140.2 million.
Illinois State, $20.9 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $50.6 million.
University of Illinois, $167.6 million, the Rauner 2015 budget, $458.5 million.
So after cutting off all funds to the state universities for nearly 10 months, forcing them to liquidate their reserves, cut programs, and lay off staff, our Illinois politicians fund the state universities at 29 percent of their previous yearly appropriation. That’s one hell of a pay cut! Of course, it is possible that the legislature and governor will continue to negotiate over additional appropriations for fiscal 2016. Does anyone out there believe that?
This largesse exhibited by our elected officials will permit the most cash-strapped schools to limp into the fall when tuition revenue should provide additional financial resources. How much tuition revenue is anyone’s guess, but it seems likely that the public universities in Illinois will see sharp enrollment declines which will translate into sharp decreases in tuition revenue. As this perfect storm of financial disaster unfolds, there seems little reason to believe that our elected officials will be able to enact a budget for fiscal 2017 anytime soon. Thus, we can go through this farce again as 2016 turns into 2017.
Today’s legislative action has provided a small measure of financial relief—as I said in an earlier post, only a reprieve. None of the state universities have yet been “saved” and will not be until one of two things happen: 1) they are able to become independent of state funding; 2) the state decides to get its financial house in order and appropriately fund higher education. It is a sad state of affairs when the persons running the state fail to to invest in our young people.