State appropriations committees discuss University’s funding

The Illinois House Higher Education and Senate appropriations committees heard from representatives of the state’s public universities on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the level of state funding they hope to receive in the coming fiscal year.

“There’s certainly a very good dialogue,” said University Spokesman Tom Hardy. “It’s a good opportunity for the University to come in and state its case for why it should receive continued support.”

Hardy said some of the University’s top administrative officials attended the hearing, including each of the campuses’ chancellors, President Robert Easter and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renée Romano.

State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-52, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the University made a strong case to preserve its funding at Thursday’s hearing, thanks in part to their decision to bring administrative figureheads from each campus.

“What came across very clearly was that if you cut $209 million to the University … it’s going to have an effect all over the state,” Bennett said.

Higher tuition costs as a result of the cuts are especially concerning, Bennett said, as they could potentially drive prospective students away from the University.

Based on conversations with his fellow senators, Bennett said he is cautiously optimistic about the level of appropriations the University will be allocated in the final budget. However, he also said almost every major public organization is facing massive cuts in the coming year, which makes preserving the University’s funding more difficult.

“We spent all our day hearing from different government agencies, including different universities, and watched them say ‘Well, you can’t cut us,'” Bennett said. “So it becomes this competition over limited resources, and then it becomes ‘What’s the best use of these limited funds?’”

While it is too soon to tell whether the University will see Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed $209 million cut to its state appropriations in the final budget, Hardy said members of the administration, as well as alumni grassroots advocacy organization Illinois Connection, have been meeting with state legislators to guide them away from supporting the cut.

Hardy also said the state currently owes the University roughly $300 million in appropriations for this fiscal year.

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