Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise is the only active university chancellor in the state to be asked to join Illinois governor-elect Bruce Rauner's transition team.
Phyllis M. Wise
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
On Nov. 4, Rauner, a Republican, was elected to replace Democrat Pat Quinn, who has served as governor since 2009. Rauner will begin his term Jan. 12.
The governor-elect released the names of transition team members Nov. 6, providing a list of more than 30 community, business, religious and political leaders throughout the state who have agreed to advise Rauner.
"We are committed to making our transition team broad, inclusive, diverse - representative of the leadership throughout the state of Illinois," he said. "We are committed to assembling the most talented team of leaders that's ever been assembled to turn around a state government."
The other members of the team with a higher education background are Glen Poshard, former congressman and former president of Southern Illinois University; and Ed McMillan, a business leader and U. of I. trustee. Michael Bass, the senior associate vice president and deputy comptroller for the U. of I. Office of Business and Financial Services, has been tapped to serve on a transition subcommittee.
Lt. Gov.-elect Evelyn Sanguinetti, picked by Rauner to lead the transition, said the team will provide ideas to help the new governor be more effective, and members will be asked to recruit others to develop strategies to help the state escape its deep financial problems.
Those inherited problems include a state deficit of about $45 billion; unfunded pension liabilities totaling about $100 billion and pension payments that eat up more than one-fifth of the general fund; ongoing negative assessments by bond rating agencies; and an approximate $2 billion loss of revenue next year if a temporary income tax hike is allowed to expire in January.
"We're asking the brightest and most talented, intelligent people - people who understand what it takes and what we need to move forward," she said.
As a member of Rauner's transition team, Wise said she will do whatever she can to further the interests of the university and the state of Illinois.
"I am excited and honored that the University of Illinois will be among the voices representing higher education and helping the new governor to ensure our state remains a national and global leader," she said.
The state's budget crisis directly affects the U. of I. on many levels.
Immediately, the loss of the temporary income tax increase would cost the state $2 billion in revenues this fiscal year and
$4 billion the next year - a development that Walter Knorr, the university's chief financial officer, has said could translate into a $70 million annual loss to the university. That would be at least a 10 percent drop, considering the annual state appropriation to the university is around $650 million.
There also is the uncertainty of the unfunded pension liability and the fate of corrective pension legislation under review by Illinois courts; worries that state bond ratings will further drag down the university's borrowing power; a backlog of bills that include late payments regularly affecting the university; and concerns over the possible transfer of pension and health benefit obligations to the university in the future.
Wise said she looks forward to being a part of the new governor's team.
"With all of the important issues being faced by this state, and with many of those affecting the university directly, it's important to at least be at the table and to continue advocating for higher education as part of the solution," Wise said.