Gov. Jim Edgar to deliver his budget message today

By Eric Krol

NIU and higher education will hold its collective breath today as Gov. Jim Edgar delivers his budget message at noon.

Edgar will be giving his budget picture for next year and some state agencies are expecting big cuts.

The picture for higher education, however, is cloudy. Higher

education officials said they were unclear on what Edgar’s budget message will contain.

Ross Hodel, Illinois Board of Higher Education Deputy director, said he was attending a Tuesday night briefing which would reveal Edgar’s plans. “We have been led to believe that a best case scenario would involve the same level of funding as (this year),” Hodel said.

A worst case scenario would be “a major cut,” he added. “Hopefully we’ll fare better than other state agencies.”

Hodel said he has heard that some state agencies are going to be cut by as much as 15 percent. However, Hodel said he hoped that Edgar’s previously stated pledge to education would help avoid a big cut.

“The truth of the matter is that it’s hard to tell,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves.

“They’ve been holding their cards close to the vest,” Groves said. Last year, the state bureau of the budget hinted at what the budget would contain, he added.

Groves said he agreed with Hodel’s assessment of the situation. “A Springfield newspaper says there are going to be some sizable cutbacks, but education will be treated relatively well,” he said. “These people have their noses to the ground, so I think they would know.”

Groves was not as optimistic as Hodel about Edgar’s self-proclaimed reputation as a governor concerned about education. “The only thing that scares me is when this governor says ‘education’ he doesn’t mean higher ed,” Groves said.

Groves said there also has been media speculation that Edgar will recommend a substantial tuition increase. “It could be the IBHE recommendation (4 percent),” he said. University of Illinois at Champaign President Stanley Ikenberry has bandied about tuition increase figures as high as 15 percent.

Groves said he doesn’t think there will be much about higher educational reorganization in the Edgar message. There is currently a bill floating around which would eliminate the Regents and Board of Governors. Apparently, the deadline for the governor’s staff to propose the changes was April 1. “There just wasn’t enough time,” Groves said.

NIU President John La Tourette said he would not comment until Edgar delivers his message.