Statehouse update: Budget questions linger

Money & rulerLate last month, Speaker Mike Madigan and House Minority Leader Tom Cross appeared together at Higher Education Appropriation Committee hearing in a rare public showing of bipartisan cooperation.

They testified in support of a bill that would fully fund the 2012 fiscal year group insurance costs and pension contributions. Questions of how those payments would affect the higher education budget were answered as many questions this session have been addressed: with uncertainties.

When Madigan was asked if the payments would come out of higher education’s budget, he indicated that the reallocation of remained general revenue would be reviewed across the full list of budget priorities and the appropriation committees would do the hard work.

This year, however, the budget would cover obligations and fund required payments without exceeding revenues. The bill passed out of committee without opposition.

Another question to Madigan provided some insight into what has been the long-range problem.

He was asked: “If the state had budgeted this way for the past decade, would Illinois be in the financial crisis it is?” His short response summed up the situation. “It might,” he said, “if you went back 20 years.”

The two chambers of the legislature and the governor’s Office of Management and Budget have all come up with differing revenue estimates for next year.

A budget — in the $30 billion to $35 billion range, minus the pension, group insurance payments and some debt obligation — will provide an insufficient amount to cover what is being spent this year. So the legislative committees work on slicing up the pie, the debate continues and the general assembly works on deadlines for substantive legislation before an Easter break. They return at the end of April for a stretch run of five weeks until scheduled adjournment May 31.

It’s a big agenda in a tough year. And time is running short.

In other news, President Peters and several NIU trustees recently made a trip to Springfield.

They met with the leaders to discuss their concerns on issues of funding, delayed payments, control of our tuition dollars and the impact of mandates. President Peters also emphasized his deep concern over the absence of a exemption for campuses in the concealed-carry bill, HB148, that sits on third reading in the House. He coordinated a joint letter with the other public university presidents and chancellors to all Illinois legislators expressing this unified opposition to allowing guns on campus.

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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