NIU brass addresses senate committee

By Jerry Lawrence

NIU’s budget is in its final stage of development as state legislators discussed differing budget proposals for higher education at a committee meeting last week.

Next year’s budget was discussed by state senate appropriations committee members and NIU officials Thursday as the budget process enters the final legislative phase. The legislature has until mid-May to finish the process, although past budgets have been approved in the midnight hours of the final meeting in June.

NIU President John La Tourette, Provost J. Carroll Moody, Eddie Williams, vice president of Finance and Planning and assistant to the pesident Alan Voelker met with the committee to discuss the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s budget recommendation for next year and the budget proposal of Gov. Jim Edgar.

The budget increase for higher education recommended by the IBHE already has been reduced by over one half in Edgar’s proposal. Williams said the committee discussed the differences between the two including the elimination of general funds that were supposed to support faculty pay raises.

“I think the meeting went well,” Williams said.

Williams said U of I President Stanley Ikenberry told the board that the governor’s budget recommendations represented as low as the state universities could possibly go in spending for next year.

Williams said Ikenberry’s comments centered around the necessity of following the governor’s recommendation to divert state income tax surcharge funds from local governments toward state agencies like higher education.

Last month when Edgar delivered his budget proposal to the General Assembly, he recommended the retention of the surcharge, which is set to expire in July, and the re-appropriation of the funds toward programs such as higher education.

The surcharge proposal is likely to run into a few political snags in the legislature with state agencies competing against cities like Chicago for the surcharge funds.

Since the governor’s budget recommendation relies upon the surcharge proposal, the universities might be left high and dry if the plan runs amok and the funds are not replaced with other state tax dollars.

La Tourette said the universities are concerned about the effect the political struggle for the surcharge funds could have on higher education.

“The concern is that if the governor’s budget does not go through and there is not a reallocation of funds from municipalities, there might be a shortage of funds and a need for budget cuts,” La Tourette said.

He said without the governor’s modest budget increase recommendation, NIU will be forced to reallocate funds to support programs like the recently announced internal retirement plan and faculty pay raises.

La Tourette said the committee commented on NIU’s early retirement plan. He said the legislators thought the plan was a good one, but also wanted other universities to be careful not to exceed the funding limits NIU built into its program.

Williams said the appropriations committee also asked each state university to explain their views regarding the IBHE’s controversial Priorities, Quality and Productivity (PQP) initiative.

PQP has been criticized by many in the higher education community for being a budget exercise that puts emphasis on

program productivity instead of program quality.

Under the PQP initiative, the IBHE recommended the elimination of 190 university programs state-wide.

Among the more controversial aspects of PQP was the recommendation that NIU eliminate its law school because there are already too many lawyers in the state.

Williams said the legislators and university representatives were in agreement and disagreement with the IBHE’s actions.

“I think state government is now concerned about efficiency and maximum utilization of every state tax dollar, and they are very interested in what each state agency is doing to improve efficiency,” Williams said.