State budget: $720.5 million allotted for UI

By Jonathan Jacobson

Issues between Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich caused the budget to drag through the legislative process, leaving Illinois to operate without a fixed budget for nearly two months. When Blagojevich signed the state budget Thursday, Illinoisans breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But the University may have to keep holding its breath.

The new budget will provide the University of Illinois system with less money than officials requested and leaves Lincoln Hall renovations on the Urbana campus in question.

In Sept. 2006, the University Board of Trustees requested a $101 million increase from the 2007 fiscal year budget. In the budget signed last week, the University received a $13.1 million increase, 13 percent of what the trustees asked for.

“When I spoke with people in administration, they weren’t overjoyed,” said state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford. “They were happy and felt that was the best they could do.”

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The total budget of $720.5 million represents a 1.9 percent increase from the 2007 fiscal year budget, but is still $80 million short of matching the University’s 2002 allocation.

University officials are satisfied with the appropriations, said Tom Hardy, a University spokesperson.

“We’ve received exactly what our expectations were in terms of general appropriation,” he said.

In an e-mail interview with The Daily Illini, University President B. Joseph White said he was happy to receive an increase in funding from the state, but it was not going to be enough to keep tuition rates down.

“More state support is always better because there is a teeter-totter relationship between state support and tuition increases,” he said. “But I’m grateful for every dollar of state support to U of I.”

The trustees would not “low ball themselves,” Frerichs said, though ” … an eight percent increase was unreasonable. There just aren’t the state resources there.”

The board requested $53.1 million for the Lincoln Hall renovation, a building Hardy called “the poster child for needing to address important deferred maintenance issues.” The governor’s recommended budget, released in March, planned to allocate $55 million to the project.

But the current budget devoted $2 million for designing and planning, and the funding is dependent on Blagojevich’s written approval of the new plans.

Memorial Hall of Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., which currently enrolls about 37 percent of the students that the Urbana campus does, secured $10 million in funding from the state. That renovation is one of the governor’s chosen Economic Development Initiatives and is one of only a few fully-funded capital projects granted to a state university since Jan. 2002, according to the Western Illinois Web site.

In addition to the $720.5 million allotted for general University of Illinois allocations from the state budget, a separate state contribution will fund University faculty and staff pensions, as well as health care, with about $441 million.

University officials said they were counting on the state to pass a capital budget – a plan to finance long-term projects – that will generate more funds, specifically for the Lincoln Hall renovation.

“We have had funding in the past and continue to have funding for important planning costs,” Hardy said. “What we don’t have committed yet are the total capital budget dollars because the capital budget remains that little bit of unfinished business in terms of work done in Springfield.”

Legislators are expected to begin work on a capital budget after Labor Day, Hardy said, though nothing can be taken for granted.

“I have a high level of confidence and expectation that Lincoln Hall is going to be renovated,” Hardy said. “Certainly all signs point to that project getting done in our lifetime.”