Peters, Quinn talk money, state budget

By Jessica Sabbah

NIU President John Peters discussed Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012 and its potential impact on the university at the University Council meeting Wednesday.

Quinn presented the $52.7 billion budget Wednesday that included increasing state spending by $1.7 billion while cutting some human services to the poor and money to hire new state troopers. The budget would also increase funding of higher education by 1.2 percent.

Peters said Quinn’s budget would call for level funding for public universities; for example, the same general revenue allocation as appropriated in Fiscal Year 2011.

“Considering the fiscal health of the State of Illinois and the history of declining state funding for higher education, the budget proposal put forth by Gov. Quinn for public universities and other entities in higher education, I think this is as realistic and as optimistic as possible given the state’s dire financial circumstances,” Peters said. “However, recall that this year, Fiscal Year 2011, our appropriation from the state was reduced by nearly $7 million, because the federal money came out, so budgeting at NIU will continue to be very tight.”

Although NIU’s funding from the state isn’t being reduced necessarily, Peters said when inflation is considered, a flat budget amounts to a budget reduction because expenses rise while revenues do not.

“We don’t have a budget problem per say, we have a cash flow problem,” Peters said. “So okay, you have your operating budget that’s flat, but right now we are owed $77 million from last year.”

Peters also said it appears that all of NIU’s proposed capital appropriations previously approved for NIU remain intact, which includes the new Computer Science and Technology Building, significant renovations of Wirtz Hall and some capital renewal money.

Peters also addressed Quinn’s proposal to restructure the $8.75 billion of the state’s debt that would cover outstanding bills to NIU, other public universities, municipalities, schools, social service providers and other state vendors.

“If the state were to restructure its outstanding debt, not only would NIU receive its monies owed, but it would also downstream pay for health providers to carry our insurance who have waited almost 10 months for reimbursement from the state for employee health insurance payments,” Peters said.

Peters also commented on Quinn’s argument not to spread payments across 10 years, which is one alternative to the debt restructuring.

“Frankly, I really cannot envision a scenario that would allow NIU and others to wait up to 10 years to access funds for the Fiscal Year 2011 and still remain in any sort of operational status,” Peters said.

Peters also noted that the 35th Senate District, which NIU is in, is ranked fifth in outstanding state payments owed to service providers throughout the state.

Peters also referred to pension reform as the “single most important financial issue facing the state.”

Suzanne Willis, chairwoman of the Rules and Governance Committee, presented a first reading of a report that would revise Article 11: Grievance procedures for faculty and staff.

Student Association Senator Austin Quick voiced concerns from some of the student body about getting more information about the proposed plus/minus grading system that the Faculty Senate approved for recommendation last week and how students could provide their input.

Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver invited the SA leadership to discuss the proposed change to the grading system. He also said the proposed change if approved would not take effect until fall 2012 at the earliest and that a set of questions still needed to be answered before it’s voted on.

Peters also thanked all those that helped plan Monday’s Feb. 14 memorial events and the 2,000 people who attended.

“We had students and others come back for that day of remembrance,” Peters said. “I thought that was quite touching.”

The University Council will meet next on March 9 in the Sky Room of the Holmes Student Center.