Bill aims to keep funds in DeKalb

By Jerry Lawrence

NIU’s tuition funds might be allowed to stay in DeKalb if a state representative gets his way.

State Rep. Michael Weaver, D-Mattoon, is sponsoring a bill that will keep university income fund dollars under the control of the universities which gather them. Under the current appropriations structure, university income funds, which consist of tuition dollars and student fees, are sent to Springfield by state universities.

The funds then are placed in Springfield bank accounts where they collect interest before being reappropriated back to the universities.

Weaver said the bill he sponsored, House Bill 197, would eliminate the Springfield diversion of funds. He said the bill has two main advantages. It will allow universites greater flexibility in the spending of income funds, while also allowing universities to earn interest off the money by keeping it in local banks, he said.

While this might all sound quite promising to university administrators, House leadership has stymied the bill’s progress by sending it to the House Executive Committee instead of the House Higher Education Committee, Weaver said.

He said most bills assigned to the executive committee never reach the floor for a vote. However, Weaver said he is trying to get his bill out of the committee and on the floor for a vote by the end of this week.

Weaver also said state legislators might not be likely to pass a bill limiting their power. If public universities were to gain greater control over the income funds, there would be one less budgetary axe for the legislature to wield.

Furthermore, the interest gained off the tuition dollars serves as additional income for the state. In an era of budget crunches and a state income tax freeze, legislators might not want to let go of the funds.

NIU President John La Tourette said he had supported similar legislation in the fall of 1991. In a 1991 statement, La Tourette said, “The public universities of Illinois could use their income funds more effectively to support instruction if tuition and fees could be collected locally, invested and carried over from one fiscal year to another.”

La Tourette issued the statement after NIU’s enrollment jumped unexpectedly in the fall semester of 1991. Because the state has to appropriate the tuition funds before they are received by using projected enrollment figures, the resulting increase in tuition dollars was not provided for by budget legislation.

La Tourette said the unexpected funds were not sent back to NIU resulting in too few classes for too many students. A change in the appropriation of the income funds, like the one Weaver is proposing, would prevent that type of situation, he said.

Weaver said he voted against last year’s legislation giving Chicago State University control over its own income funds because he believed the bill should have included all universities.