Legislative update: Fiscal Year 2013 state budget gets nod from Quinn

Lori Clark
Lori Clark

In Springfield

The Governor signed HB 3887 on June 27, now Public Act 97-0711. This law requires personnel of institutions of higher education, including coaches and other personnel in the Athletics Departments, to report to authorities suspicions of sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. This bill was introduced following the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.

On June 30, the last day of the State fiscal year, Governor Quinn acted on the FY2013 state budget.

He approved SB 2378 (General Services appropriations), SB 2413 (P-12 Education appropriations), SB 2443 (Higher Education appropriations), SB 2454 (Human Services appropriations), and SB 3802 (Budget Implementation Act).  He Line Item and Reduction Vetoed SB 2474 (Public Safety appropriations), Reduction Vetoed SB 2409 (General Services appropriation) and Line Item Vetoed SB 2332 (Capital Re-appropriations).

The budget cuts discretionary spending by $1.4 billion from FY 2012, pays $1.3 billion of old bills, closes and consolidates 57 facilities and restructures the state’s Medicaid program. Governor Quinn, in his message, strongly objected to the General Assembly’s cuts to education and the Department of Children and Family Services, and he indicated that he would work to reallocate funding in the Fall aimed at protecting children.

Higher Education was reduced by 6.14% from the FY 2012 base appropriation. For NIU, this translates into a reduction of our General Revenue Funding of approximately $6.1 million.

The Monetary Award Program funding was reduced by nearly 45, or $15.4 million. The Illinois Veterans Grants, which in recent years went primarily to community colleges, were zeroed out, a $6 million reduction. The National Guard Grants were zeroed out, a $4.4 million reduction. The Illinois Future Teachers Corp Scholarships also were zeroed out, a $2 million reduction. The Illinois Scholars Program was reduced by $3.12 million (98.73%), to only $40,000. The Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program was zeroed out, a $300,000 reduction, while the Veterans Home Nurse Loan Repayment Program was reduced by 40%, to $30,000.

In Washington, D.C. …

It has been an interesting and very busy two weeks in Washington.

Last week, Congress, by a vote of 255-67, made Eric Holder the first sitting Attorney General in U.S. history to be held in contempt of Congress for withholding documents requested as part of a Congressional investigation into Operation “Fast and Furious,”alleged to have involved the transfer of guns to try to track down Mexican drug lords. Later the same day, Congress voted (258-95) on a civil contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Holder.

On a more positive note, Congress voted to extend the Stafford federal student loan interest rate of 3.4% for another year.

Without Congressional action, this rate was scheduled to double to 6.8% on July 1, 2012. The measure was included in the conference report for H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act. President Obama has signed this into law. This one-year extension of the current 3.4% interest rate for new federally-subsidized undergraduate loans will cost $5.9 billion.

To pay for this extension, Congress approved two pension-related offsets. While this is good news for students in the upcoming year, this is a temporary solution, and we can expect this issue to arise again next year.

The House continues to work through its FY 2013 appropriations bills at a steady pace, and the Senate is moving through their appropriations bills at a slower pace. On June 12, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee approved a $68.5 billion FY 2013 Department of Education budget.

Included in this budget was a small increase ($85) in the maximum Pell Grant award, to $5,635. The budget did not include any funding for the President’s proposed “Race to the Top” for higher education.

However, it does allocate $40 million to the President’s proposed “First in the World” initiative, a competitive grants program to encourage higher education institutions to experiment with ways to restrain tuition increases. It also allocates $44.8 million for the new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED).

The bill contains only level funding for most other student financial aid programs, such as the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) and the Federal Work-Study Grants program.

Of special interest is the fact that this bill also includes a number of policy provisions, two of which were included in the President’s budget.

One provision eliminates eligibility for subsidized Stafford loans for new borrowers enrolled beyond 150% of their program length, and the second provision reduces the subsidy paid by the government to guarantee agencies for rehabilitating default loans.

The legislation also includes two provisions that seem to be directed primarily at for-profit education companies, although they also would apply to all institutions. The first provision bans higher education institutions from using federal funds on “marketing, recruitment and advertising,” and the second provision eliminates the use of room and board in the cost of attendance calculation for Pell Grant eligibility for distance learning students.

Several national higher education organizations have been working hard to urge the Senate to support full funding for the National Science Foundation and to oppose a House provision that bans funding for political science programs. NIU has informed both of our Senators of our support for these positions.

Although these appropriations bills are moving, it appears unlikely that Congress will be able to pass any appropriations bills to send to the President before the end of Fiscal Year 2012 on Sept. 30, 2012. It is more likely that we will see a Continuing Resolution passed that will keep the government operating until February or March, 2013. The outcome of the November 2012 election undoubtedly will have a substantial impact on how Congress moves forward.

Two weeks ago, President Obama announced a new federal policy to put in place some provisions contained in the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, making some young people brought to the United States illegally as children safe from deportation proceedings.

The DREAM Act is a ten-year old bill designed to give undocumented immigrants a path to higher education and citizenship. This Presidential Directive does not create a path to citizenship. However, under the plan, individuals will be eligible for deferred action on deportation if they can prove they were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military.

They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years, with no limit on how many times it can be renewed.

The Supreme Court of the United States last week issued its opinion on the constitutionality of “Obamacare,” the national healthcare policy spearheaded by President Obama and approved by Congress.

In a rather surprising move, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the more liberal members of the Court (Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor) in upholding the Constitutionality of Obamacare. Within an hour of the Court issuing its decision, the House of Representatives scheduled a vote on July 11 to repeal Obama’s healthcare law.

While this vote is symbolic at this time, depending on the outcome of the November elections, Congress may take action to repeal part or all of the law before it becomes operational in 2014.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.

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