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Governor’s budget proposal includes more for higher education

The fiscal year 2010 budget proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn on March 18 was welcome news for officials at the UI and other public universities. Quinn proposed an increase in funding for higher education next fiscal year rather than the decrease that many people were expecting because of the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit. 

Quinn’s FY10 budget proposal contained a 1.1 percent, or $16 million, increase in state general funds appropriations for all public universities – or a $7.8 million increase for the UI.

The proposed budget would increase the university’s total general operating fund to $751 million and restore the 2.5 percent rescission the university received during the current fiscal year.

If Quinn’s budget is approved by lawmakers, the UI would receive capital funds for the first time in nearly a decade. Statewide, Quinn proposed $920 million for higher education capital projects, including $57.3 million to renovate Lincoln Hall, $20.03 million for construction of the Post Harvest Crop Processing and Research Laboratory, and $44.52 million for constructing the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building at Urbana. Another $60 million for construction of the Petascale Computing Facility at the Urbana campus was included in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s budget.

Statewide, Quinn budgeted $40.9 million for repairs and renovations at colleges and universities, with $21 million of those funds slated for the UI.

The proposed increases for higher education, capital projects and economic development programs throughout the state would be funded through increases in individual and corporate income taxes.

To help close an estimated $11.6 billion gap in the General Fund, Quinn recommended that state employees be required to take four furlough days, a measure he said would save the state $36 million. Workers who provide direct patient care or protect public safety would be exempt.

In a joint statement, UI President B. Joseph White and Niranjan Shah, chairman of the UI Board of Trustees, wrote that the proposed increase would reduce pressure to raise tuition on incoming students and help the university address its deferred maintenance needs.

 “Gov. Quinn’s proposed reforms and ‘belt tightening’ measures reinforce for us at the UI that we must be good stewards of the resources that the state provides,” White and Shah wrote. “We have in the past and will continue to routinely re-examine our spending priorities and take steps necessary to maximize the level of resources supporting our core missions of educating students and creating new knowledge.

“State support is essential for the UI to provide a high-quality, accessible college education for the people of our state, and we look forward to working with students, faculty, staff and alumni to communicate with the governor and General Assembly during the spring legislative session.”

White spoke to the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Committee on March 25, a week after Quinn released his budget proposal, and reiterated his belief “that this is not a good time to impose a stiff tuition increase on students and their families. We intend to do our very best to minimize any increase. Even modest increased support from the state, as recommended by the governor, would help us greatly in this regard.”

The governor’s budget included significant changes to the state’s five public employee retirement systems, although most of them would apply only to new hires. Among the reforms Quinn recommended were raising the minimum age for early retirement to 62, capping service credit at 35 years, and redefining “final pay” for calculating retirement benefits as the final “eight-year average” of employees’ compensation and limiting it to base pay. Current employees would be required to bump up contributions to their retirement plans by 2 percentage points; new hires would pay 1 percentage point less than the current rates.

Under the proposed budget, the state’s FY09 fourth-quarter payment ($550 million) to the pension systems would be eliminated, and the FY10 budget reduced accordingly. Likewise, payments to the State Universities Retirement System would be reduced $126.5 million from the FY09 budget.

Other cost-cutting measures that Quinn proposed included requiring state employees and retirees to contribute $200 million more for their health care next year.

A total of $45 million of all state universities’ appropriations – $24.9 million of the UI’s appropriations – goes to the state for employee and retiree health-care costs.

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