Costs hit hard

By Darrell Hassler

If history repeats itself, the large budget hike requested by the Board of Regents for next year will be severely chopped by the state, and student money won’t cover the difference.

The board, which is ultimately responsible for any tuition hikes, asked the General Assembly Sept. 20 to give NIU, Illinois State University in Normal and Sangamon State University in Springfield a 17 percent operating budget increase.

Operating costs include library materials, building maintenance, Medicare for employees, salaries and inflation costs.

But statistics show that during the last four years, the Regents usually asked for a hike the state didn’t swallow.

Illinois Board of Higher Education statistics show the Regents asked for a 17.7 percent increase last year for this year’s operating budget. However, legislators only approved a 0.6 percent increase.

The Regents responded by making students pay $86 more for tuition a year, a 5 percent increase. An instate student pays $1,800 in tuition.

Board officials say they do not expect their request will be met but still insist more money is needed.

“It (the proposal) is realistic in terms of needs,” NIU Student Regent Jim Mertes said. “We have been traditionally under funded.”

Mertes said if the state doesn’t give the Board what it needs, students will be forced to carry the burden, or services will be cut.

The last time students paid the full difference between the Regents’ request and the state’s actual funding was in 1988 when there was a 20 percent tuition hike.

The request also comes at a time when Illinois is in dire straits with $290 million in unpaid bills. The Regency budget request has not gone unnoticed.

Jim Bray, the chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra, said the request “really is not realistic” given the state budget situation.

He would not make specific predictions, but he said a 17 percent increase in the Board budget “is not going to happen.”

This week, the proposal will be given to the IBHE which will scrutinize and cut the budget down. IBHE recommendations will be given to the General Assembly in January.

Ross Hodel, IBHE deputy director of Public Affairs, said getting proposals asking for high budget increases is “fairly typical.” The IBHE will go through the proposed budget to decide which increases would be most important.

“You can safely say (the proposal) is a bit ambitious,” Hodel said. He said legislators are concerned about the lack of income and sales taxes while also losing part of the recently-made permanent income tax surcharge to cities next year.

Officials would not predict how the IBHE or the General Assembly would decide which programs to cut, but Chancellor’s Assistant, Cheryl Peck, hinted that new programs would probably take a heavy hit.

But Peck said no program would be singled out. “I think it’s a balancing act,” she said.