Baker Report: Budget realities

Photo of the Illinois State Capitol in SpringfieldGiven the continuing debate over the Illinois budget and the concern that we all share about how it will be resolved, I feel it’s an appropriate time to review the state of play in Springfield.

At the end of May, the House and Senate delivered a budget to Gov. Rauner that is arguably as much as $4 billion out of balance. It’s now the governor’s move, and it’s likely that he will not even consider new revenues until key items of what he calls his “turnaround agenda” are addressed. Crucial to this agenda is a series of structural reforms that he believes will make Illinois more economically competitive. So, at the moment, we are at an impasse – and there doesn’t seem to be a clear way out.

I should point out that even under the House and Senate proposal, NIU would be looking at an appropriation of $85.2 million, which is a 6.5 percent reduction from the FY15 revised appropriation of $91.1 million. The uncertainty is expected to continue, as observers believe that the ultimate resolution of these budget issues will not happen until after the beginning of FY16.

What does this mean for NIU?

There are indications that to close the $4 billion gap in the House and Senate budget, the governor’s Office of Management and Budget could look at implementing additional across-the-board reductions for all state entities. This again would be over and above the 6.5 percent reduction in the House and Senate proposal. This reduction would be far greater than anything we’ve ever faced. We have been planning for a variety of contingencies for months, including something like this, so we have a head start on dealing with the ultimate result of the deliberations in Springfield.

In addition to stepping up our scenario planning, what else can we do?

For one thing, we continue to press our case individually and with other colleges and universities. We’re talking about the value of higher education, and the devastating impact these cuts would have on our ability to deliver on our promise of career success and social mobility for thousands of Illinoisans. We’re talking about the adverse effects on the state economy given our important role in the regional economy.

We also can accelerate our efforts to attract more students to the university and retain them once they’re here. A lot of work is being done in this area, as well, including our current aggressive efforts to enhance the numbers for our fall class, our relationship-building with high schools and community colleges and our desire to attract more international students.

Symbol of the State of IllinoisThe Springfield situation also makes our efforts in the areas of program prioritization and process reengineering even more critical, as these campus-wide initiatives are going to ensure that we are using our resources in the most productive manner possible in the future and over the long term.

In the short term, Illinois State Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger said Wednesday that without an FY16 state budget in place by July 1, she would not be able to process any state payments using FY16 funds. However, it appears that agencies that are owed FY 15 monies and agencies and universities that utilize federal funds and other non-state funds might have more flexibility than state agencies.

I recognize the anxiety this produces and the emotions we all are feeling, and we will continue to talk to lawmakers, monitor the situation closely and provide updates as information becomes available. At this point, we plan to maintain operations in July even if there is not a state budget and will continue to plan for a successful and productive fall semester. Thank you to all of our employees for your professionalism, and for continuing to work diligently to serve our students and fulfill our mission.

Together Forward,

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