Use branch money wisely

During the spring semester of 1989, State Sen. Joyce Holmberg, a Rockford Democrat, proposed a bill in the state legislature to build an NIU branch in her hometown.

On May 24 of that year, it passed … and jumped right into a political tailspin that’s taken three years to wind itself down.

Former Gov. James Thompson vetoed Holmberg’s bill but saw his veto overturned at the fall 1989 veto session. After that, the governor said he was committed to the funds—$500,000 in seed money—and promised to release the cash.

Thompson cried wolf for months, saying he would release it and then did not. In the days nearing Thompson’s departure from the state’s top office, NIU President John La Tourette made several calls to Springfield to ask about the money. There had been no assurance from Governor-elect Jim Edgar that he would fund the Rockford project.

Thompson’s last official act as governor was to release the money. NIU, after two years of controversy from other colleges, was finally home free.

But before the month was over, Edgar froze the money along with all other capital development projects okayed by Thompson and put them on a chopping block for further review.

Now, seven semesters later, the money is ours. Planning finally can begin for the center, something that’s got Rockford business and government leaders abuzz. It’s got NIU leaders talking, too.

But let’s make sure the money is used wisely and efficiently. Considering this state’s strapped economy and its usual disregard for education, the money is almost a Godsend. It would be a shame to waste it.