OUR VIEW: EIU can move ahead even as state sputters

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If the condition of Eastern Illinois University is to improve, in the short-term as well as the coming years, two things seem clear.

First, state legislators and the governor must craft a budget, something they have failed to do for almost 23 months. Yes, it is maddening. Second, EIU officials must find ways to bring back some of the thousands of students who in recent years have found other campuses on which to pursue their university educations.

For sure, a state budget that adequately funds all public universities in Illinois would help restore young people’s, and their parents’, confidence in EIU and the other 11 state-assisted universities of Illinois.

But EIU’s enrollment issues began even prior to state lawmakers fumbling their political football in the spring of 2015 and grasping ever since at a state budget as though it was a greased pig.

EIU enrollment hit a high-water mark of more than 11,000 students in the late 20th century. Ten years ago, on-campus enrollment was more than 10,000 students. The official 10th day enrollment in spring 2011 was 9,549. According to the JG-TC “State of the University” series this week, the current spring enrollment at EIU is 6,673 students.

That is a decline of almost 3,000 students since 2011, well before Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton began playing “chicken” with state funds.

According to the JG-TC series, EIU officials get it.

Josh Norman, fairly new as the associate vice president for enrollment, said EIU is hosting more events to build stronger relations with prospective and current students. Administrators and faculty need to drive home that personal connection that always has been a strength at EIU.

Paul McCann, interim vice president for business affairs, who has had to track the university’s lack of finances under the Rauner-Madigan-Cullerton funding fiasco, acknowledged that many of the challenges EIU faces could be eased by enrolling more students.

Lack of adequate state funding and less tuition/fee revenue from a declining enrollment have resulted in about 20 percent fewer employees at EIU. It is a challenge to maintain personal relations when there are fewer faculty/staff to assist students. Layoffs, early retirements and unfilled vacancies have contributed to the fewer number of employees.

Across campus this academic year, faculty, staff and administrators have been engaged in a “revitalization project” designed to focus on the best ways to move forward that will meet students’ needs and provide the best stewardship of funds.

Katie Anselment, EIU’s legislative liaison at the Capitol, summed up the “state of the university” very well in one installment of the series.

Area legislators, she said, are “very receptive” to working on adequate funding. Lawmakers from other state university regions also see higher education as a priority. But representatives and senators in other areas of the state? It seems they “don’t feel the impact,” Anselment says.

It’s a variation of the “Not in My Back Yard” dilemma. But higher education affects the back yard, the front lawn and the entire state of Illinois. Especially when thousands of students leave Illinois each year to enroll in other states’ universities.

EIU officials have much to work with. The university’s reputation, since the days of Livingston Lord, the first sitting president, has been excellent. U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 college rankings listed EIU as the best regional public university in Illinois and the sixth-best in the Midwest.

But, even the best regional public university needs public funds. State officials need to end this two-year-old budget stalemate and move Illinois forward again. But it’s up to officials, alumni and friends of one of the top public universities in the state and Midwest to show prospective students how EIU continues to be a wise enrollment opportunity.

— JG-TC Editorial Board

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April 21, 2017 at 06:28PM

OUR VIEW: EIU can move ahead even as state sputters

WATCHDOGS: Struggling NEIU paid big for years for grad speakers

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The $30,000 fee Northeastern Illinois University was going to pay former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett was just the latest in a series of big fees the financially troubled state school has paid to snag prominent graduation speakers, records show.

Despite its money troubles — a Wall Street credit agency just dropped Northeastern deeper into “junk-bond” status — the state university has handed out five-figure fees to each of the speakers at its May commencement events the past four years.

That’s in sharp contrast to what’s done at other state schools, also facing tight-money times, including the three University of Illinois campuses, Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University. Administrators at those universities and others say they don’t pay graduation speakers beyond travel costs.

Jarrett — who was a top aide to former President Barack Obama — agreed earlier this month not to accept a speaking fee for the May 8 commencement after the Chicago Sun-Times reported she was being paid $30,000.

Jarrett said she was unaware of the extent of the financial problems facing the university, which serves about 10,000 students on five campuses, including the main campus on North St. Louis Avenue south of Bryn Mawr.

Northeastern has cut three days from the school year and ordered all 1,100 of its employees to take an unpaid week off during spring break to cut costs amid financial problems worsened by the state government’s continuing budget impasse. The employees also won’t be paid for the three canceled class days.

When Jarrett said she would abandon her speaker’s fee, she already had been paid in full, university records show — and Northeastern administrators agreed to let her keep $1,500 of the $30,000 after her representative told them Jarrett still expected the school to pick up the tab for her travel.

The public university has paid a total of nearly $46,000 to speakers for its May commencements since 2013, the records show, including:

• $15,000 to Democratic political operative Donna Brazile in 2013. Brazile ran Al Gore’s losing campaign for president in 2000 and twice was interim leader of the Democratic National Committee.

• $10,750 in May 2014 to Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who is an MSNBC and Telemundo contributor.

• $10,000 in 2015 to Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress Rita Moreno, who appeared in the movie musicals “West Side Story” and “The King and I.”

• $10,100 last year to Evan Wolfson, a New York civil right lawyer who founded Freedom to Marry, which pushed successfully to legalize gay marriage.

From left, Donna Brazile, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Rita Moreno and Evan Wolfson. | Getty Images, supplied photos

Northeastern Illinois officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In the past, Illinois legislators have tried to bar public universities from paying commencement speakers, but those efforts haven’t gone anywhere. Some lawmakers say they plan to try again following the reports of how much Jarrett was to be paid.

State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, says he thinks the law should allow state schools to cover travel expenses only and provide no payment for speeches.

“It should be an honor,” Batinick says, to speak at a university commencement.

In response to public records requests covering the past five years, the University of Illinois system — which includes campuses in Chicago, Urbana and Springfield — and other Illinois state universities say they don’t pay commencement speakers beyond travel costs, though Southern Illinois University Carbondale has done so twice in that period.

Eastern Illinois University spent a total of $2,273.92 to cover lodging, airfare, rental car and fuel for graduation speakers from 2013 through 2016.

The biggest name among them was Mike Shanahan, an Eastern Illinois graduate who coached the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowl victories. He addressed the Class of 2015. It cost the university $155.40 — the price to put Shanahan up for a night at the Unique Suites Hotel in downstate Charleston, records show.

Governors State University in University Park has spent close to $3,500 to cover travel expenses of graduation speakers over the past four years and plans to continue the policy for its two speakers this year. Its top recent payment, in 2015, was more than $1,300 to bring poet Nikki Giovanni to its south suburban campus from Virginia.

Illinois State University’s College of Fine Arts has spent about $3,300 since 2013 to welcome back alumni who speak at its graduation events.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville also covers only travel costs — amounting to a total of $1,244.08 in state funds for this year’s and last year’s graduation speakers.

Western Illinois University doesn’t have to worry about such things. “Our president delivers the commencement address,” says Darcie Shinberger, spokeswoman for the campus in Macomb.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale now covers only travel costs. But it did pay $30,000 plus expenses to Frank Abagnale — the con man-turned-security consultant portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “Catch Me If You Can” — to speak in 2013 and $40,000 plus expenses to actress Ali Wentworth in 2014.

Chicago State University said they needed more time to respond.

The City Colleges of Chicago covered nearly $6,000 in travel costs for rapper Common to be keynote speaker at a commencement ceremony in 2015, including first-class plane tickets from Los Angeles for Common and an assistant, two nights in a $589-a-night room at The Langham hotel downtown, meals from room service and airport limousines.

At Northeastern, the deal to bring in Jarrett next month grew out of discussions with Jim Oliver of Gotham Artists, a New York talent agency and speakers bureau, records show. Oliver previously had offered possible speakers to the university. On Jan. 24, Christie Miller, director of the school’s Office of Cultural Events and Community and Professional Education, asked for suggestions for a commencement speaker.

“We need someone with star power but also appropriate for a very diverse student body,” Miller wrote to Oliver, who declined to comment. “We had a LGBT activist last year so we don’t want that this year. But a diverse speaker to highlight leadership, motivation, etc. would be ideal.”

Oliver sent a list of speakers with biographies. Miller then asked for “further info on fee and availability for Van Jones, Valerie Jarrett and Erin Brockovich.”

She said Northeastern wanted a speaker for the May 8 commencement as well as for a May 6 lecture. But Oliver told her Jones, Jarrett and Brockovich couldn’t do anything more than the commencement because “all three are pretty busy here in early May.”

Jones, a CNN commentator, would have cost $55,000, according to Oliver. Brockovich, the environmental activist portrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie that bears her name, would have charged $24,000.

Initially, Jarrett’s asking price to speak at the state school was $45,000, plus first-class travel, accommodations and local ground transportation, though Oliver added, “Might have some flexibility on fee, we can discuss.”

Miller replied: “I think Valerie Jarrett might be first choice right now. What kind of flexibility do you think there is on the fee?”

On Feb. 8, the university made Jarrett an offer: $10,000 plus first-class expenses. But Miller made clear the university was willing to pay more.

“Our president asked me to make this offer,” she wrote to Oliver. “I realize there may be a counteroffer if she is interested.”

Eight days later, the university signed a deal with Jarrett for $30,000 that said: “Fee is inclusive of all expenses.”

The school sent Jarrett’s agency a “non-refundable deposit” of $15,000 on March 13 and a second payment covering the balance owed on April 7.

Trustees for the university apparently didn’t know of the deal or its terms until their April 6 meeting. According to a recording of the meeting, one member of the board said it was “disturbing” to pay Jarrett so richly at a time the university is facing deep financial problems.

Another trustee asked whether Jarrett might donate the fee to a student scholarship in her honor but was told, “The contract has been negotiated and signed.”

The board also approved an honorary degree for Jarrett, with three members voting against the measure.

On April 10, hours after the Sun-Times requested records related to the contract, the university revealed that Jarrett’s contract was for $30,000. But schools officials said they found an unnamed donor to cover that.

The following day, a spokeswoman for Jarrett said she told the university “she will not be accepting a speaking fee.”

On April 13, Jarrett’s representative at Gotham Artists wrote to Northeastern officials again. “She would still of course need her travel covered from D.C.,” Oliver said. “Those expenses are coming out to $1,500.”

Miller replied two minutes later: “Yes, that is fine. Thanks!”

Oliver told Miller that Gotham Artists had mailed the school a check for $28,500 — the fee she’d been paid minus travel costs, which weren’t itemized.

Jarrett’s spokeswoman declined to comment.

Before going to work at the White House in 2009, Jarrett was a $300,000-a-year executive of The Habitat Company, a Chicago real estate development company. In January, in the last federal financial disclosure form she submitted as an Obama aide, Jarrett reported total assets of between $2.22 million and $7.86 million.

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April 21, 2017 at 06:29AM

WATCHDOGS: Struggling NEIU paid big for years for grad speakers

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

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Chicago State University‘s new interim president started work this week, the third leadership shift for the Far South Side university in 18 months.

Rachel W. Lindsey, a longtime former dean of Chicago State’s College of Arts and Sciences, took over the presidency Monday, about a week after the board approved her hiring. Her contract, obtained by the Tribune through a public records request, promises a $240,000 salary and stipulates she will serve as interim president at least until April 16, 2018.

Lindsey’s contract requires that she provide trustees with a list of goals within three weeks, detailing her plans and recommendations for academic programs, university finances, strategic planning and community relations. She will receive a performance review every six months, evaluating her progress in improving Chicago State’s financial status, graduation rate, enrollment, educational programs, relationships with faculty, fundraising, media relations and public image — with the concession that she may not have time to make gains in all those areas as a temporary leader.

“Your appointment comes at a critical time in the university’s history, and the board is confident that you will make an important contribution to the future development and success of the university,” the contract states.

Lindsey and her assistant did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Lindsey’s salary would seem to indicate the cash-strapped school will shoulder considerably more in administrative costs to pay her and ex-Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas as the Far South Side university attempts a comprehensive leadership shift.

Vallas, who was appointed to the Chicago State board in January, was tapped for a newly created position as the university’s chief administrative officer. When he will begin work remains unclear. A spokesman said Vallas is eager to get going but contract negotiations were ongoing.

“The board has issued what appears to be a final draft of the contract so we’re all hopeful he can start soon,” spokesman Sam Hamer said Thursday.

The former interim president, Cecil B. Lucy, will return to his previous position as interim vice president of finance and administration. It is not known what his salary will be, but documents show he was making $140,000 as finance chief before moving to the $260,000 interim president post.

Lindsey’s move into the top administrative seat came at the heels of months of tumult and politicized wrangling over the direction of the 150-year-old school.

Thomas J. Calhoun was hired in late 2015 amid much fanfare to replace Wayne Watson, whose six-year tenure was riddled with controversy. Calhoun took over in January 2016, with a five-year contract paying him $300,000 a year.

But he unexpectedly resigned in September after nine months, taking a $600,000 severance. His departure proved controversial, as he was well liked among students and faculty who accused other school leaders of undermining Calhoun’s authority. Many of his supporters routinely have appealed the board to reinstate Calhoun.

Lucy immediately was appointed interim president.

The leadership shuffle began anew early this year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner brought in four new board members — Vallas, Nicholas Gowen, Tiffany Harper and Kam Buckner — and created an eight-member advisory group in January. Rauner said he expected the group to spark a dramatic reversal for a university struggling with strained finances, falling enrollment, failing infrastructure and sluggish academic performance. At the time, Rauner signaled he wanted the board to install Vallas as the chairman.

But the board already had impaneled its newest officers, putting the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr. in charge and Horace Smith as vice chair. In the first meeting with the new board in March, the group chose Vallas as its secretary.

Rauner’s office grew impatient with the board after a few weeks, saying they weren’t moving fast enough to initiate the kinds of ambitious changes he expected. Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis then helped orchestrate a plan that would put Vallas at the head of the administration in some sort of crisis management role.

The move struck a nerve and divided opinions. Chicago State’s faculty union and even former Senate President Emil Jones publicly backed Vallas, while several Chicago and Cook County politicians supported Lucy and blasted Rauner for attempting to put a white man in charge of a predominantly black institution. Vallas is white; Lucy is black.

Board members, pushing back against the appearance that Rauner was pulling the strings, opted for a different course. After nearly six hours of closed-session discussions March 27, trustees announced they would pick a new interim president and hire someone for a new position of chief administrative officer in April. Lucy would step down and return to his old job as finance chief.

Vallas was not promised either position at the time and trustees demanded he resign from the board to be considered for either job. Vallas did quit the board in advance of the April 7 meeting, where trustees tapped him and Lindsey for the open posts.

Lindsey began teaching educational psychology and child development at Chicago State in 1976, according to her university bio. She served as the arts and sciences dean for almost 20 years before retiring in 2011. She also taught at Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola University.

She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Michigan and her masters and doctorate in educational psychology from University of Chicago, according to her bio.

Despite the topsy turvy path, several vocal critics of university leaders said they were pleased to have Lindsey in charge.

“I think she’s really level-headed and she’ll do very well,” faculty union president Robert Bionaz said. “I think she knows the university really well. She understands academics. She’s gotten tenure. You’ve actually done the job, you’ve gone up through the ranks. I think the qualifications are there.”

Board members have said they plan to hire a search firm to do a nationwide recruitment for a permanent president, something likely to take several months. Gowen and Harper will lead that committee.

Trustees will inform Lindsey by March 16, 2018 if they want to extend her contract.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

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April 21, 2017 at 02:06AM

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

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Chicago State University‘s new interim president started work this week, the third leadership shift for the Far South Side university in 18 months.

Rachel W. Lindsey, a longtime former dean of Chicago State’s College of Arts and Sciences, took over the presidency Monday, about a week after the board approved her hiring. Her contract, obtained by the Tribune through a public records request, promises a $240,000 salary and stipulates she will serve as interim president at least until April 16, 2018.

Lindsey’s contract requires that she provide trustees with a list of goals within three weeks, detailing her plans and recommendations for academic programs, university finances, strategic planning and community relations. She will receive a performance review every six months, evaluating her progress in improving Chicago State’s financial status, graduation rate, enrollment, educational programs, relationships with faculty, fundraising, media relations and public image — with the concession that she may not have time to make gains in all those areas as a temporary leader.

“Your appointment comes at a critical time in the university’s history, and the board is confident that you will make an important contribution to the future development and success of the university,” the contract states.

Lindsey and her assistant did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Lindsey’s salary would seem to indicate the cash-strapped school will shoulder considerably more in administrative costs to pay her and ex-Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas as the Far South Side university attempts a comprehensive leadership shift.

Vallas, who was appointed to the Chicago State board in January, was tapped for a newly created position as the university’s chief administrative officer. When he will begin work remains unclear. A spokesman said Vallas is eager to get going but contract negotiations were ongoing.

“The board has issued what appears to be a final draft of the contract so we’re all hopeful he can start soon,” spokesman Sam Hamer said Thursday.

The former interim president, Cecil B. Lucy, will return to his previous position as interim vice president of finance and administration. It is not known what his salary will be, but documents show he was making $140,000 as finance chief before moving to the $260,000 interim president post.

Lindsey’s move into the top administrative seat came at the heels of months of tumult and politicized wrangling over the direction of the 150-year-old school.

Thomas J. Calhoun was hired in late 2015 amid much fanfare to replace Wayne Watson, whose six-year tenure was riddled with controversy. Calhoun took over in January 2016, with a five-year contract paying him $300,000 a year.

But he unexpectedly resigned in September after nine months, taking a $600,000 severance. His departure proved controversial, as he was well liked among students and faculty who accused other school leaders of undermining Calhoun’s authority. Many of his supporters routinely have appealed the board to reinstate Calhoun.

Lucy immediately was appointed interim president.

The leadership shuffle began anew early this year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner brought in four new board members — Vallas, Nicholas Gowen, Tiffany Harper and Kam Buckner — and created an eight-member advisory group in January. Rauner said he expected the group to spark a dramatic reversal for a university struggling with strained finances, falling enrollment, failing infrastructure and sluggish academic performance. At the time, Rauner signaled he wanted the board to install Vallas as the chairman.

But the board already had impaneled its newest officers, putting the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr. in charge and Horace Smith as vice chair. In the first meeting with the new board in March, the group chose Vallas as its secretary.

Rauner’s office grew impatient with the board after a few weeks, saying they weren’t moving fast enough to initiate the kinds of ambitious changes he expected. Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis then helped orchestrate a plan that would put Vallas at the head of the administration in some sort of crisis management role.

The move struck a nerve and divided opinions. Chicago State’s faculty union and even former Senate President Emil Jones publicly backed Vallas, while several Chicago and Cook County politicians supported Lucy and blasted Rauner for attempting to put a white man in charge of a predominantly black institution. Vallas is white; Lucy is black.

Board members, pushing back against the appearance that Rauner was pulling the strings, opted for a different course. After nearly six hours of closed-session discussions March 27, trustees announced they would pick a new interim president and hire someone for a new position of chief administrative officer in April. Lucy would step down and return to his old job as finance chief.

Vallas was not promised either position at the time and trustees demanded he resign from the board to be considered for either job. Vallas did quit the board in advance of the April 7 meeting, where trustees tapped him and Lindsey for the open posts.

Lindsey began teaching educational psychology and child development at Chicago State in 1976, according to her university bio. She served as the arts and sciences dean for almost 20 years before retiring in 2011. She also taught at Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola University.

She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Michigan and her masters and doctorate in educational psychology from University of Chicago, according to her bio.

Despite the topsy turvy path, several vocal critics of university leaders said they were pleased to have Lindsey in charge.

“I think she’s really level-headed and she’ll do very well,” faculty union president Robert Bionaz said. “I think she knows the university really well. She understands academics. She’s gotten tenure. You’ve actually done the job, you’ve gone up through the ranks. I think the qualifications are there.”

Board members have said they plan to hire a search firm to do a nationwide recruitment for a permanent president, something likely to take several months. Gowen and Harper will lead that committee.

Trustees will inform Lindsey by March 16, 2018 if they want to extend her contract.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

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April 21, 2017 at 02:06AM

Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

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The Illinois House Economic Opportunity Committee hosted a hearing discussing the impact universities have on the communities they surround on Thursday.

The event took place in Carbondale, where Southern Illinois University continues to struggle during the state budget impasse.

Business owners, local officials and university leaders gathered to discuss the local impact SIU has on the region with the House Economic Opportunity Committee.

Committee chair State Representative Christian Mitchell from Chicago says SIU and Southern Illinois is important to his district because of the number of Alumni and current students that attend SIU.

“Part of what I want to do is make the case for why higher education should be fully funded right.”

Mitchell says universities create an impact on both the student and the community.

“There’s the direct impact that college graduates make more money throughout their lifetime and that’s a really big deal, but it’s also that I think for example at SIU a student on average spends about $10,000 in disposable income here in the community just through out the coarse of the school year.”

Illinois Universities are struggling to keep student in state due to the budget impasse.

Fewer students means less money for the region.

SIU President Randy Dunn let the committee know how important SIU is the whole region.

“Here as the university goes the region goes, we want to keep doing what we need to do to keep this area strong.”

Without funding some universities may face closure, which Mitchell says no one wants to see.

“Any of our universities closing it would be a devastating impact.”

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April 20, 2017 at 10:04AM

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

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The Illinois House Economic Opportunity Committee hosted a hearing discussing the impact universities have on the communities they surround on Thursday.

The event took place in Carbondale, where Southern Illinois University continues to struggle during the state budget impasse.

Business owners, local officials and university leaders gathered to discuss the local impact SIU has on the region with the House Economic Opportunity Committee.

Committee chair State Representative Christian Mitchell from Chicago says SIU and Southern Illinois is important to his district because of the number of Alumni and current students that attend SIU.

“Part of what I want to do is make the case for why higher education should be fully funded right.”

Mitchell says universities create an impact on both the student and the community.

“There’s the direct impact that college graduates make more money throughout their lifetime and that’s a really big deal, but it’s also that I think for example at SIU a student on average spends about $10,000 in disposable income here in the community just through out the coarse of the school year.”

Illinois Universities are struggling to keep student in state due to the budget impasse.

Fewer students means less money for the region.

SIU President Randy Dunn let the committee know how important SIU is the whole region.

“Here as the university goes the region goes, we want to keep doing what we need to do to keep this area strong.”

Without funding some universities may face closure, which Mitchell says no one wants to see.

“Any of our universities closing it would be a devastating impact.”

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April 20, 2017 at 10:04AM

House Economic Opportunity Committee Meets Discusses SIU’s Impact on the Region

Voice of The Southern: Time’s up, get a budget done

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It’s the classic conundrum: What came first — the chicken or the egg?

That’s pretty much what’s happening right now in Springfield when it comes to the state budget. Everybody is pre-occupied pointing fingers and placing blame, yet nobody wants to get a deal done. What’s worse, it doesn’t even seem like a priority.

For example, the General Assembly is in the middle of a two-week spring break. No budget for nearly two years? No problem, go ahead and take a little vacation.

It’s always dangerous to compare government work to private enterprise, but it seems unlikely that in the private sector workers involved with a project two years behind schedule would be given vacation time.

To be fair, realistic and pessimistic all in the same breath — it’s not like a deal would’ve gotten done in the next 10 days.

Watching our legislators and the executive branch walk away from the state’s most pressing need is just what we’ve come to expect. And, quite frankly, that’s not acceptable on any level.

According to the state’s Constitution, the governor is supposed to prepare and submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly each fiscal year. The General Assembly then “shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State,” according to the Constitution.

Obviously, none of this happened in the past two years. Or, at least, none of it has led to an actual working document.

That’s where the chicken and the egg come in again. It seems as though nobody is even willing to get the process started. Constitutionally, that job that is supposed to be done by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

In February, Rauner did present a plan to the General Assembly. At the time, it gave some hope that we were nearing an end to the budget impasse.

“I would expect that negotiations are going to continue and perhaps even ramp up a little bit,” said Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, in a story from February. There were others, too, that shared Schimpf’s optimism.

That was Feb. 15. It’s now April 19. And we’re still without a budget. The state has essentially gotten nowhere to end the now 658-day stalemate.

Think about that for a minute. Six-hundred and fifty-eight days. The state has gone 658 days without a budget — nearly two years.

We are running out of ways to say the situation is unacceptable – but is anybody surprised anymore? We’re not.

This has become a game of chicken between the Democrats and Republicans. It’s a strong-willed game of chicken between Rauner, our Republican governor, and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

We all know what usually happens in a game of chicken? Somebody gets hurt — and that somebody is the hard-working people of Illinois.

It’s our universities. It’s our social service agencies. It’s everyone affected by exercise in political futility. It’s the people who are leaving the state in record numbers because they’re sick of it.

Locally, the Women’s Center could close within three months without funding. And, the center’s clientele are lucky it has managed to remain operational.

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale is suffering. SIUC is looking to borrow millions from SIUE. And, on Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service said SIU may be in danger of a credit downgrade.

That’s a pretty sad self-inflicted state of affairs.

According the Associated Press, the state has a $5 billion deficit and $13 million more in unpaid bills. A balanced budget is not a magic wand that is going to clean up the mess that has been years in the making.

Climbing out of that kind of a hole will take years upon years of fiscal responsibility.

But, what a balanced budget does is start that climb. The state has to start somewhere, and the sooner the better. But, until the state has a budget, the hole is going to get deeper.

We realize any balanced budget will include cuts that will be difficult to swallow. There will have to be provisions for additional revenue. That’s just another reason to get a deal done sooner rather than later.

We readily admit the governor, our senators and representatives face a difficult task. But, it’s a job they asked for. This is not the time to kick the can down the road in the form of another stopgap budget out of mind. A temporary budget is not what Illinois needs.

Illinois needs a budget. It needs to start the recovery.

Our lawmakers say they need to work in a bipartisan way. We’ve heard it before. We’re tired of hearing it.

Show us. Get a balanced budget done.








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April 18, 2017 at 09:25PM

Voice of The Southern: Time’s up, get a budget done