Officials cautious despite budget

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB | When legislators in Springfield passed a state budget after a nearly three-year impasse, NIU’s administration was grateful; however, officials are still trying to make up for a $65 million loss that resulted from the gridlock.

Although the budget allows the university to fund previous years’ Monetary Award Program grants that were being credited as well as resume construction on the Stevens Building, NIU spokesperson Joe King said state funding included in the recent budget represents only about 20 percent of the university’s operating budget.

Officials are relying on a portion of revenue that will generate based on next semester’s enrollment to cover a $65 billion budget gap and the 10 percent decrease in state appropriations from fiscal year 2015, the last time a full budget was passed.

“A lot of [funding] comes from tuition and fees, so until the school year starts, we won’t know exactly how many students we have and what that’s going to generate in tuition and fees,” King said. “So there’s still some uncertainty here.”

While the state funding offers less than 25 percent expense relief to NIU, King said knowing money has been guaranteed allows officials to put together a better spending plan with more certainty.

It has only been a couple of weeks since the budget was passed, but King said officials intend to continue viewing spending as they have in the past couple years by assessing all expenses based on whether they are a “mission critical expense,” meaning costs officials believe will benefit the university the most.

The “mission critical expense” test will apply to many initiatives, including deferred maintenance and new construction projects.

“The good news is that having been some difficult years lately, we have a good idea of how to underline our expenses with lower income,” King said.

King said officials could put the money toward hiring but will first talk with faculty and staff and utilize data gathered from Program Prioritization during the last few years to analyze where money is most needed.

“We’ve done a lot of work these last couple of year with Program Prioritization and data that had to be gathered as we were evaluating how to deal with the lack of funding the last couple of years,” King said. “It’s given us a much better picture of the university — where our strengths are, where our needs are.”

King said he knows officials must reach decisions soon, but they will continue to make decisions with a “broader view” because there aren’t any guarantees that another budget impasse won’t happen.