State funding for UI included in shaky budget

By Kathleen Foody

When state legislators left the capital on Saturday, the University of Illinois had been granted an unlikely increase of $37.7 million for fiscal year 2009 in the budget passed hours before deadline.

But the source of that funding – and the level of deficit the budget created – remained a point of disagreement for members of both chambers and parties.

If Gov. Rod Blagojevich approves the $59 billion budget sent to him by the legislature, the university system would receive the 5.3 percent increase in state funding. That measure includes an additional $15.8 million for state scientific surveys transferring to the university’s control from the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Members of the university’s Board of Trustees passed a preliminary budget in May, relying on the governor’s budget recommendations which included a decline of $1.7 million in general revenue funds to the university.

Trustees were presented with an estimated $48.9 million spending increase and their own budget deficit if state funding did not increase, placing more pressure on tuition, fees and faculty salaries.

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A 1.5 percent increase was approved in May, but trustees expressed disapproval with that low rate, suggesting faculty deserved at least 3 percent more for the year.

State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D – Champaign) hailed the passage of the budget Saturday, especially for the university system.

“Even though times are tight, the U of I desperately needs funds,” he said in a release. “In recent years, tuition and fee increases have been necessary to keep pace with the rising costs of maintaining a quality institution.”

The proposed budget would also benefit the University of Illinois Extension programs with $1.5 million. The governor withheld funds from the program earlier this year as the state budget was debated.

Frerichs called the passage a “nice reversal.”

“A few months ago we were fighting to keep the Extension program running, and now they will be receiving a boost in funding,” he said.

Though the legislatures seemed to agree with providing more general revenue funding to higher education, money for construction projects is still on hold.

A plan crafted by Blagojevich’s Illinois Works coalition last month that included funding for major construction at the University passed through the Senate. But the House shot down its major source of revenue – an expansion of gambling by adding three new riverboat casinos and allowing slot machines at horse tracks and casinos.

If passed, the coalition’s recommended capital plan would have provided funding for the renovation of Lincoln Hall, the construction of a petascale computing facility and other maintenance projects deferred in the nine years since the state last had a capital plan.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D – Chicago) said Thursday several bills had been positioned for amendments if a capital plan was approved by representatives.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.