Dunn: Stopgap funding will ease pressure at SIU

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Carbondale Times and Associated Press

Illinois lawmakers on Friday approved a $600 million short-term funding fix for financially struggling colleges and universities that have been without funding during the state budget stalemate.

The rare bipartisan deal was overwhelmingly approved Friday on a 106-2 vote in the House and 55-0 in the Senate. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is expected to sign the bill.

The bill comes at a critical time for many universities. At SIU, administrators announced plans to cut more than 180 jobs, more than 300 additional student jobs and funding for a handful of departments and programs if Rauner’s proposed FY2017 budget comes to pass. SIU and others have yet to receive any FY2016 appropriations.

In a statement, Rauner said: “By passing this bipartisan agreement, lawmakers in both chambers put aside political differences to provide emergency assistance for higher education, ensuring universities and community colleges remain open and low-income students can pay for school. We are hopeful the General Assembly will build on this bipartisan momentum in the weeks ahead as we negotiate a balanced budget with reform for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017.”

SIU President Randy Dunn said the legislation will allow the university to continue operating, at least for now, without resorting to any “draconian” cuts.

“Today, lawmakers, in a bipartisan fashion, voted to throw universities a lifeline,” Dunn said in a statement. “For SIU, this well appreciated stop-gap measure will give us the ability to operate into the remainder of the year without having to enact, at least for the next six months, the draconian layoffs and budget cuts I presented before the Board of Trustees last month. It also allows us to plan for operations with an uncertain level of funding now as well as for next year. It is by no means a final spending plan for this fiscal year — a fact acknowledged by almost every legislator who rose to speak on the bill’s behalf. We thank them for their acknowledgement that there is still work to be done and look forward to continuing our efforts with our campus and state-wide elected officials as they continue to fix this state budget and live up to the covenant the State of Illinois has with its public universities.”

While Friday’s action does nothing to change the basic contours of the larger budget impasse, it does provide emergency state funding — the first state money for the university since the budget impasse began last summer.

According to State Rep. Terri Bryant, the bill will provide SIU with a one-time disbursement of $57 million. 

The bill also contains a total of nearly $170 million for MAP grants in Illinois.

Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks, who voted no on the bill, says he prefers a full resolution to the budget that should’ve taken effect July 1.

State Sen. Gary Forby said he supported the bill because of increasingly dire circumstances at SIU, but that Rauner is still standing in the way of a complete resolution to the problem.

“I voted for this today because SIU is in a crisis situation,” Forby said in a statement. “Jobs are at stake, our young people’s education is at stake, and I will not stand by and let this happen. State schools need state funding. Period. What is infuriating about this situation is that the governor has a plan on his desk that would give SIU 100 percent of the funding it needs right now. Due to his inaction we are now forced to pass emergency funds that only release 30 percent of the funds they need for the fiscal year.”

Money for the bill is possible because of a surplus in the state’s Education Assistance Fund. 

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld was sober in his comments.

“Irreparable damage has been done to our universities and community colleges,” he said in a statement. “There are no real winners with today’s budget bill, only a sliver of relief is being provided. No one should applaud this solution or be running to take the credit.”