IL budget passed; NIU sustains $65 million loss

By Morgan Fink

DeKALB — Legislators in Springfield passed a state budget after a nearly three-year impasse, providing NIU with full state funding for the first time since Fiscal Year 2015 at 10 percent less than the last complete appropriation.

The budget was passed in the state House Thursday, when legislators voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the state’s spending plan.

“I applaud our legislators for the bipartisan cooperation required to end a stalemate that has hurt our state, our university and our students,” acting President Lisa Freeman said in a Budget Update. “Their actions signal that they appreciate the important role of public higher education in building a prosperous future for Illinois.”

This bill allows NIU to fund outstanding obligations from FY17, money credited to student accounts in FY17 for Monetary Award Program grants, funding for FY18 MAP grants and operating capital for FY18, Freeman said in the update.

“The receipt of these funds will positively impact NIU’s cash position and alleviate stress on new and returning students who rely on MAP grants, allowing them to focus on their educational goals,” Freeman said in the update.

The budget also allows for the completion of the Stevens Building project. Officials are hoping the building will be completed this spring, but it could be finished later in the year because officials had to prepare for a potential lack of state allocations, spokesperson Joe King said.

“Those working on the project can’t just set down their tools and walk away,” King said. “They have to close off areas that were open, taking equipment away, and contractors have to get back on board with the project. Now they have to turn around and do all that process. It isn’t as bad as when it was shut down for an entire year, but it will take some time.”

The passing of the budget involves a 32 percent tax increase, which Rauner wanted to avoid, thus vetoing the bill. The NIU College Republicans made a statement on Facebook expressing their disappointment in the tax hike.

“We will fight this whenever and however we are able,” members said in the post. “The future of this state and the future of the students attending this university depend on it.”

Edward Bowie, NIU College Republicans president, said lowering the corporate tax rate and enforcing term limits could have prevented the override of this bill.

“No one is delusional to the fact that we have a money problem,” Bowie said. “Senators have entertained the idea of temporarily raising taxes as long as it came with structural reform, so we can plug the hole while we work on fixing the ship so we don’t have these types of problems in the future. We have been doing this for decades, and we absolutely think structural reforms are just as necessary in any budget deal.”

The passing of a budget does not change the fact NIU has endured a loss of $65 million in the past three years. The sum was money not received in FY16 and FY17, causing officials to cut numerous expenses.

This includes cancelling building projects, putting off maintenance work and avoiding rehiring for certain positions.

“We took a huge hit in the process,” King said. “We have gone without a lot of things, and it’s money we didn’t get and money we won’t ever get back.”

The state has also fallen $15 billion behind on bills during this period without a budget.

Going forward, Bowie said he hopes policies will be put in place to accomplish things such as lower the corporate tax rate.

“If we are going to have higher personal income tax, we need to have some kind of give and take with the other side, and, frankly, I haven’t seen that yet,” Bowie said. “I think if certain representatives like Mike Madigan resigned, negotiation would have gotten somewhere, and we could’ve taken more positive, permanent steps in the right direction to prevent this $15 billion debt.”

NIU leaders including Matt Streb, chief of staff, lobbied throughout the budget crisis in hopes of receiving state funding for higher education. Freeman was also involved in talking to state legislators. It was the number one job for a lot of officials these past few months, King said.

“After over two years without a budget, we couldn’t be more thrilled,” King said. “It gives us some clarity and certainty, and it is a great feeling.”

Rep. Bob Pritchard (R-Hinckley) was not available for comment.