Illinois universities unite to call for funding

This article was updated Feb 10 at 11:43 p.m.

Presidents and chancellors of public universities in Illinois on Tuesday implored the governor and comptroller to agree to a plan that would provide state funding for higher education.

The presidents and chancellors of the 13 four-year public universities in the state sent a letter to Quinn and Hynes, asking the state to honor its commitments by “fully funding public university appropriations for (fiscal year) 2010.”

“We’ve tried to work with the universities to address payment emergencies as we have with those who provide goods and services across this state who are waiting months and months to be reimbursed,” said Hynes spokeswoman Carol Knowles in a statement.

A spokeswoman in Quinn’s budget office said the office was working with the universities to “explore payment options,” including possibly borrowing money.

As of Jan. 25, taxpayer-supported public universities collectively remained more than $735 million behind in state payments for total appropriations.

Slow and reduced payments by the state have resulted in reduced budgets, salary and hiring freezes, employee furloughs and reductions by the universities.

“The hole that Illinois has managed to dig for itself is so deep that it’s not going to be able to cut its way or tax its way out of the hole,” said Interim President Stanley Ikenberry in a press release. “It’s going to take a combination of both.”

Quinn has proposed raising the income tax rate but lawmakers were reluctant to support it before the Feb. 2 primary. Quinn has predicted the legislation will pass one later this year.

“We have drawn down our available resources, and we are now counting on tuition dollars to keep our doors open for students beginning the new spring semester,” the public university leaders wrote in their letter. “Still, no amount of cutting and sacrifice can make up for the absence of hundreds of millions of dollars in State Appropriation payments.”

The University has a backlog of state appropriations totaling about $431 million, Ikenberry said in the release.

University employees have taken 4 percent pay cuts this academic year and Ikenberry has said tuition will likely be raised at least 9 percent this summer to help the school get by.

The group said without full funding, the universities will be forced to take further, more drastic options.

Gov. Quinn signed a general revenue budget for the current fiscal year that provided a total of $1.39 billion for the universities.

The money is designated to use for faculty and staff salaries, libraries, utilities, infrastructure maintenance, equipment and supplies.

As of Jan. 25, the universities had received $335 million. Hynes’ office is assigned to distribute state appropriation dollars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report