Statehouse update: Final funding talks begin

Ken Zehnder

Ken Zehnder

With only five weeks remaining in the spring legislative session in Illinois, a multitude of measures is moving forward after clearing the April 15 deadline to pass proposals out of each chamber.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has provided a succinct summary of the budgetary process: The anticipated general revenue for Fiscal Year 2012 is $34.3 billion, an amount similar to what the House estimates.

Members of the appropriations committees already approved funding for pension payments, debt service and health care costs.

Now, because Cullerton has dismissed the notion of an omnibus budget bill that would cover all state operations, the Senate will return from Easter break next week to begin considering 40 separate appropriation bills for the remaining state funds.

That process could become lengthy. Sen. Chris Radogno, the Illinois Senate Republican leader, has expressed the need to negotiate on an overall budget number and then view how each agency or institution is impacted before voting on each bill.

Meanwhile, the Illinois House of Representatives, where Speaker Mike Madigan has echoed Cullerton’s approach, takes up the appropriation bills this week in advance of a scheduled May 31 adjournment.

On the substantive legislative front, several bills that would impact higher education are still being considered:

  • SB337 was amended to require that the income fund would be directed through the appropriation process, a course of action abandoned well over a decade ago. Sponsor Sen. Martin Sandoval has requested an extension of the third reading deadline until Wednesday, May 4. NIU President John Peters has voiced strong opposition to this bill, as have numerous editorials and commentaries
  • SB1773, sponsored by Sen. Edward Maloney, will establish a timetable for performance-based funding metrics for the 2013 budget year. It passed the Senate 59-0 and has our own Rep. Bob Pritchard as chief sponsor in the House.
  • HB1079, sponsored by Rep. Sandra Pihos and picked up in the Senate by our own Sen. Christine Johnson, will provide the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) with reports on new academic programs, as well as ones that are eliminated, rational for tuition increases and updates on cost-saving initiatives.
  • HB3220, also known as the Accountability in Higher Education Act, another IBHE reporting measure, focuses on performance measures such as enrollment, retention rates and objectives of the Illinois Public Agenda. Pritchard sponsored it in the House, where it passed 102-0. Maloney will sponsor in the Senate.

While there were numerous bills introduced that would impact pension provisions, most did not pass prior to deadlines. HB3474, sponsored by Rep. Karen May, would prevent future employees from returning on contract while at the same time receiving a state pension from that system. It has passed the House and awaits assignment to a committee in the Senate. 

No vote was taken on HB148, the concealed carry bill, but that deadline was extended until Friday, May 6. President Peters, who opposes the bill, has requested an exclusion for college and university campuses. All public university presidents and chancellors have voiced their opposition of the measure, in its current form, to the legislative leaders. Negotiations on an amendment impacting several provisions continue.

Gov. Quinn’s office, through Central Management Services, recently announced that it would not renew contracts with two providers, Health Alliance and Humana, and will contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Health Alliance is appealing the decision. This move was attempted several years ago but was shelved after strong reaction and opposition from state employees and their dependents, who contended that it would severely disrupt their established relationships with medical providers.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Ken Zehnder is director of state and local relations for NIU.

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