La Tourette addresses NIU’s cutbacks

By Michael Berg

NIU President John La Tourette outlined the school’s bleak financial picture and blamed the state’s archaic tax structure for causing much of the problem.

La Tourette spoke before a group of about 60 students Wednesday night to explain some of the cutbacks which have taken place at NIU.

La Tourette said 1989 was a significant year for NIU. The state legislature approved an income tax surcharge to add funds to education and public welfare programs.

In the ten-year period before the surcharge (1979-89), state support for higher education rose 43 percent, La Tourette said. In the same period, according to the higher education price index, the costs incurred by higher education rose by 72 percent, he added.

NIU’s fund source comes from two places, state support and tuition, he said. A deficit in state funds puts pressure on tuition. “Tuition increased a great deal, about 170 percent,” he said. The reason it went up so much is because tuition made up 20-22 percent of the school’s budget in 1980, while state support made up the rest. “So for every dollar we didn’t get in state support, we had to get three or four times that in tuition to make up for the loss,” he said.

Former Gov. James Thompson and Gov. Jim Edgar have said education is a high priority, but there are priorities ahead of higher education, La Tourette said. Public assistance, corrections, and elementary and secondary education come first in terms of state funding.

“Illinois has a very modest state tax structure,” he said. “This is a long-term problem. Illinois has one of the lowest income taxes in the nation.”

“Illinois is squeezed in its priority setting situation because of very little revenue growth,” La Tourette said. “This problem will continue to exist as long as politicians do not address the tax structure to get higher income revenues.”

La Tourette said a graduated income tax would solve the problem.

The income tax was raised from 2.5 percent to 3 percent for two years by the 1989 surcharge. Of the revenue raised from the surcharge, $115 million went for improving higher education and $6.4 million of that came to NIU, he said.

“All of it was used to catch up,” La Tourette said. It was used for faculty salaries, and to make up for loss of ground in competitive and resource areas. “The money did not allow for improvements.”

Last July, funding for NIU was reduced by $1 million and in January, NIU’s budget was sliced by another 2.6 million dollars, he said.

“There was a short period of time between cuts,” he said. “We lost 60 percent of the gain we made in 1989.” Compounding the problem is the recession; even if the national picture improves, Illinois’ economy traditionally lags behind the nation by about 24 months, he said.

“I forecast a lower budget next year,” he said. “This is a disturbing thing. Higher education is being crowded out by other priorities.”

La Tourette was not without opposition, however. “(La Tourette) is so caught up in the politics and numbers of the university that he really doesn’t have a handhold of what’s going on,” said NIU senior Tom McCabe. “He talks about solutions without understanding the real problems students have getting classes and paying for them.”

The president also outlined plans to balance access to the university while also maintaining quality in education. The university plans to decrease undergraduate enrollment by 600 students and will try to reallocate funds to academic programs.

La Tourette said he plans to reallocate funds to address the backlog of classes and make the athletic department less dependent on the university.