University participates in appropriations hearings

By Maggie Sullivan

The University took the opportunity to state its case to legislators in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on the potential impact of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2016.

On Thursday, Rauner approved two bills, which are effective immediately and cut University funding by 2.25 percent — $15 million — for the 2015 fiscal year, which ends at the end of June.

The additional cuts proposed for fiscal year 2016 could leave the University with 31.5 percent less funding, or $209 million short. The 2016 fiscal year begins July 1.

The University brought in a team of people, led by President Robert Easter and representatives from each of the three campuses, to make a presentation to the legislature.

“I think that there’s a lot of recognition by elected officials in Springfield of the importance and the impact of the University of Illinois and the vital asset that it is in Illinois,” said Tom Hardy, University spokesman. “Yet they’re struggling to balance the priorities the state has in a critical fiscal circumstance.”

Hardy said the University’s concerns with the cuts, aside from them being “rather severe,” stem from the fact that state appropriations are unrestricted funds — funds that are very crucial in the day-to-day operations of the University.

“These are the funds that, together with tuition funds, are used to pay for exceptional faculty on all three campuses, keep the lights on and the doors open,” he said.

The cuts would effectively cause a reduction of faculty and staff over time, Hardy said. This would result in larger class sizes, limited services to students and an “overall diminishment” of the educational experience offered by the University.

“If we had to raise tuition to fill that gap, that would require a 20 to 30 percent tuition increase depending on if it’s just undergraduates or all students,” Hardy said.

He added the University does not want to raise tuition, and wants to protect students and faculty from these “dramatic budget reductions,” but it becomes difficult with reductions of this size.

President Easter also appointed a “leadership team” to help deal with the proposed budget cuts, Hardy said. The team consists of Easter’s cabinet and other senior University advisors.

Hardy said the sessions went very well, and there was a “mutual respect” between the University and the legislators.

Lucas Frye, student trustee, agreed with Hardy.

“It seems to me like a lot of our legislature is really impressed with the impact (The University of Illinois) does create,” Frye said. “There are some tough decisions that have to be made for everybody, and it seems like they’re trying to figure out how to move forward.”

The University has a very powerful pitch to the legislature because of its economic footprint is much larger than the other public Illinois universities.

“We need to show the legislature we can be a part of the solution,” said Frye. “Yes, there are some critical questions to ask, but most state legislators realize the impact U of I creates for the entire state, and want to help out in any way possible.”

Brady could not be reached for comment.

[email protected]