Illinois universities seek funding increases from state lawmakers

Officials from three of the state’s public universities went before a Senate committee on Wednesday to detail their funding requests, including one double-digit increase.

Public universities had a difficult time during the two-year state budget impasse brought on by the stalemate between former Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratically-controlled General Assembly. With Democrats firmly in control of all levels of state government, some of the state’s universities are asking for more funding than they had received in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first state budget.

Representatives from Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, and the University of Illinois presented requests to the Senate Appropriations II Committee on Wednesday.

The University of Illinois system, which announced it would break a years-long tuition freeze this fall, requested a total of $657 million in the fiscal year beginning this July, a more than 12 percent increase in state funding from the current year, not including a $303 million request for capital project spending.

“We deferred upgrades during the budget impasse, we had to,” U of I President Timothy Killeen said of the steps the system took in recent years.

Governors State University President Elaine Maiman didn’t attend. An investigative report found the university had continued to pay 33 people after they were either fired or no longer continued to serve at the college, paying out more than $1.5 million.

Regardless, representatives of GSU asked for a 10 percent increase in state funding. They also asked for $32 million in state tax dollars for infrastructure above and beyond what the university is set to receive from the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure program.

“We are respectfully requesting a 10 percent increase in appropriations for a total of $25.5 million,” Trustee Angela Sebastian Hickey said.

Senators, upset over Maiman’s absence, questioned why the university would ask for so much more and what school officials were doing to control costs in the face of falling enrollment.

“You’ve asked us for a lot of money here today in your request and the request that I make back to you is: Have you guys really done anything about your underperforming programs, your low-enrollment programs?” state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said.

Eastern Illinois University officials, touting the most efficient use of tuition and tax dollars of any public university, asked for $43.5 million for the coming fiscal year, a 6.6 percent increase from the current year, more than what Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed.

Officials from all three universities said they were still dealing with budget shortages and backlogs of deferred maintenance incurred during the budget impasse.

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