Tuition money’s fate still unknown

By Jim Wozniak

SPRINGFIELD—The Illinois House of Representatives did not discuss Senate Bill 1520 Thursday, leaving the university’s ability to spend tuition money as it is received uncertain for today.

ep. John Countryman, R-DeKalb, said he saw more than 50 amendments on the bill after Thursday’s House session ended and said it might not be called today. Instead, he said some might be put on different bills or not heard.

The question of supplemental funding will be discussed this morning between Gov. James Thompson and legislative leaders. They will discuss funding for all of education because the Senate Thursday voted not to override the $62 million for elementary and secondary education, as the House did in October.

The defeated override contained no money for higher education. Countryman, Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, and Board of Regents lobbyist Phil Adams said failure might benefit attempts to give higher education more money this week. But Countryman said it might not contain the $10.5 million for faculty salaries because that total might be too high.

Thompson said Thursday he made a commitment with Sen. President Phil Rock, D-Oak Park, to go along with about $25 million in supplemental funding if the Senate did not approve the override. But for the second day in a row he refused to comment about where he would like to see the money go.

Countryman said if the governor and the legislative leaders reach an agreement on supplemental funds, the House and Senate would take action on it today. He said they would be included in a few bills, which would have the governor’s understood support.

Whatever the agreement, it might be added to the supplemental calendar as a conference committee report, Countryman said. He said both houses would wait until they voted on the supplemental appropriations in case problems arose.

Thompson at first would not indicate a preference for one form of education, but later he said higher education goes before elementary and secondary education.

Allowing NIU to spend its tuition money should be on one of those bills, Countryman said. Rock said passing such an allowance is only “a formality.”

Countryman said if the governor’s meeting does not end with an agreement or if the legislature does not approve such an agreement as it would appear in the supplemental bills, the issue probably would be decided in January. He said a special session would be unlikely because of upcoming holidays.

If the tuition reallocation does not pass today, Countryman said the legislature would reconvene before the spring semester started, and it could be resolved then. NIU could use its general revenue funds until then and then replace it with the tuition funds when the money is freed.

“I don’t think it’s a panic situation at this time,” Countryman said.

Ken Beasley, assistant to NIU President John LaTourette, said, “Our concern is that tuition money, which goes into the income fund, is released. The people I have talked to are for releasing the money. The concern of the president and me is that tuition money not get caught up in controversial legislation and not get passed.”

ock said before the Senate override vote, “The tuition income fund is a mechanical thing. There should be no problem. It will go on whatever bill goes to the governor.”

Sen. Richard Newhouse, D-Chicago, said the Senate’s action Thursday would affect higher education’s quality.

Thompson said, “It might send a message in lower and secondary education to clean up their act. We’ve got schools in this state only graduating 50 percent of their class.”