MACOMB — Cash-strapped public universities received welcome news on Thursday, after the Illinois House approved a $817 million stopgap budget bill to cover the rest of the 2017 fiscal year, which ends June 30. The bill would give higher eduction a financial boost amid the state’s nearly two years long budget standoff.
The House stopgap plan would give Western about $14 million, which includes $6.7 million in operating funds and about $8 million in Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant funds for needy students.
However, Western’s budget director Matt Bierman and state Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, both say the latest stopgap proposal doesn’t solve the overall problem — the need for a long-term, reliable budget.
Hammond was one of the 45 “No” votes on the stopgap, which cleared the House with a 64-vote majority. The bill, like the one approved by legislators and Governor Bruce Rauner on June 30 last year, utilizes special funds that are regularly replenished with income tax revenue.
The problem with House Bill 109, according to Hammond, is that it allocates about $61 million more than is available in those special funds.
“Also included in the bill is money for human services,” Hammond told the Voice on Friday. “When our revenue people analyzed that part of the bill, they were allocating about $260 million for human services, and we’ve analyzed that we’re only going to have about $197 million in that account. So right off the bat it’s out of balance by about $61 million dollars. It also includes funding for programs that were not even part of the last stopgap and programs that don’t exist.”
Programs in the latest House stopgap that were not part of the June 30 stopgap include education programs such as Grow Your Own and Diversifying Education.
Hammond said the monies allocated toward those programs could be better spent elsewhere, on MAP grants or university operational expenses.
Furthermore, Hammond said some of the allocations in the House plan are currently under review by the Auditor General’s Office.
“There were some real problems with it,” Hammond said of the House plan, “and at the end of the day we need … we need a real budget. We don’t need to keep doing these little piecemeal things. We need to have a real budget that they can depend on.”
During the nearly two-years long state budget impasse, Western has initiated $20 million in budget cuts, as well as layoffs, mandatory furloughs, and other measures.
Matt Bierman, who serves as Western’s budget director and interim vice president of administrative services, told the Voice the House stopgap could give the university a bit of short-term relief, but it’s not enough for the long-term.
The $6.7 million allocated to Western amounts to just under a month’s payroll. Western’s MAP reimbursement allocation equates to a full semester and a portion of the next semester.
“Both of them help,” Bierman said the operational and MAP funds, “but they don’t solve the overall problem. But it does help. It goes a long way to help manage some stuff through the summer. We’ll have to make some tough choices if that’s all we’re going to get.”
Still, Bierman said the university would accept the House stopgap, in spite of the fact that the bill’s future is uncertain.
“I don’t know where it will go,” Bierman said of the House plan. “But we’re supportive of more funding for WIU. We’re anxious for them to come to some resolution, whatever that is, a stopgap or full budget.”
Hammond said there are other plans in the works that provide a long-term solution to the state’s fiscal crisis.
“There are some plans that we’re working on right now,” she said, “nothing that I can really give you details on. But there are plans out there for a full budget.”
Hammond also remains optimistic.
“I am going to remain optimistic that we can do this in the proper way and get full funding,” she said.
Reach Lainie Steelman via email at lsteelman@McDonoughVoice.com, or follow her on Twitter@LainieSteelman.
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April 10, 2017 at 03:46AM