Hynes meets with UI officials to discuss funding squeeze

By Katie O'Connell

In what was described as a “financial fact-finding” meeting, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes met with University administrators to discuss funding for higher education Wednesday.

During their meeting on May 21, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved a 5.9 percent increase to the fiscal year 2009 operating budget, taking the total up to $4.1 billion. Included in this funding is a 9.9 percent increase in tuition for incoming students. However, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s recommended budget for 2009 did not include an increase in funding for higher education from fiscal year 2008.

“We don’t like to rely on tuition (for funding) as much as we have in the past couple of years,” said University spokesman Tom Hardy.

In a press conference following the meeting, Hynes said it is necessary to find other sources of revenue besides tuition for Illinois universities to use.

“How we do that, that’s the big question,” Hynes said.

Hardy suggested federal research funding and various types of fees could be possible measures to increase revenue. Hynes said measures such as a lock box for funds, weekly meetings to decide what projects should receive funding and quarterly reports are also being discussed within the legislature.

The legislature’s deadline for a new budget to be passed with a simple majority is Saturday, May 31. After that, a majority would be needed in order to pass the budget.

“Frankly, I’d rather pass a responsible budget rather than just pass one because of a deadline,” Hynes said.

Yet, both Hardy and Hynes feel a capital budget is also necessary to keep Illinois’ universities competitive with other peer institutions.

Illinois has not had a capital budget in addition to their operating budget since 2003. Hardy said this impedes the University’s ability to take care of long-term projects such as Lincoln Hall renovation and various deferred maintenance projects.

“We’ve got billions of dollars in brick and mortar here,” Hardy said. “We need to be able to maintain that.”

Hynes said he, along with other members of the legislature, sympathizes with the students and families who are struggling to afford higher education because of the lack of funding.

“It’s making Illinois settle for mediocrity when we should be excelling,” he said.