Sen. Welch lectures on higher ed.

By Paul Wagner

Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, dispelled fears the state might go bankrupt if bills creating additional funding for education pass.

Welch said at a lecture at McMurray Hall Wednesday, that Gov. James Thompson has said the state will go bankrupt if supplemental funding for state programs exceeds $20 million.

A Senate bill might restore some of the $53 million in cuts to higher education if passed. Senate Bill 1520 contains $10.5 million for higher education. The bill also contains a provision which would allow NIU to spend revenue from this spring’s $150 tuition increase as it is collected.

A bill is needed to release tuition funds to NIU because the state retains authority to allocate tuition money back to the universities. Without this authority, schools would have “unlimited authority to raise tuition,” he said.

Last week, the house overrode $62.5 million in cuts to education. Welch said this override contained funding for primary and secondary education, but not higher education. The override must be approved by the Senate.

Welch said Thompson probably will veto bills containing more than $20 million in additional state funding to programs. He criticized Thompson for saying the state does not have the money for supplemental funding. “The governor is trying to use scare tactics to get us in the Senate to do what he wants us to do,” Welch said.

The state normally retains $200 million in the budget in case of emergencies, Welch said. Thompson has agreed to reduce the amount to $180 million, he said. “I think $100 million is sufficient. I wouldn’t want to go below $100 million,” he said.

A concern of SB 1520 is the number of amendments being attached to the bill in the House, Welch said. The Senate will have to approve amendments added in the House, he said. If the bill is sent to Thompson with too many costly amendments, it will probably be vetoed, he said, adding the General Assembly would not be able to override a veto until next year.

There are several amendments to the bill which “could have troubles,” Welch said. The provision to allow NIU and other state universities to spend tuition revenue next semester can be added to another bill if SB 1520 fails, he said. “There are plenty of bills to amend to do what we want to do.”

Welch also discussed his bill to create a separate governing board for NIU, which, along with Illinois State University and Sangamon State University, is governed by the Board of Regents.

The Regents make decisions affecting NIU off-campus, Welch said. The board decided at ISU to sell the Pow Wow Room to Marriott Corporation. “They (Marriott) pulled out because they were not making enough money,” he said. If the decision had been made on campus, there would have been more opportunity for student, faculty and NIU staff input, he said.

Welch also attacked state universities for wasteful spending. He said the Senate Appropriations Committee is asking schools each year to supply information on the amount of money spent on faculty sabaticals. The responses have usually been, “We’re (colleges) keeping up with the Jones’ in the world of education,” he said.

Welch said the committee also is requesting information on the oral English proficiency of teachers at state schools and expenditures on university presidents’ homes.

“The unions and administration (at colleges) are united in protecting higher education under the guise of … some noble goal. They say ‘send money, but don’t tell us (schools) how to spend it,'” Welch said.