Panel talks state budget

Mayor Jerry Smith speaks at a panel Tuesday. 

DeKALB — Faculty and residents expressed disappointment in state legislators for how their failure to pass a state budget has lead to declining enrollment numbers and more hostile workers at NIU.

The open-forum event was held to allow community members to talk and learn about Illinois’ lack of a budget over the course of 793 days. The event was hosted by NPR Illinois and sponsored in part by AARP Illinois, which recently started an Enough is Enough campaign encouraging people to contact their local legislators looking for solutions to budget issues.

State lawmakers failed to pass a budget for the past two years, meaning no guaranteed funding from the state to groups that operate on it. The time without a budget was the largest budget impasse in the history of the U.S. since the Great Depression, according to PBS, before finally passing one in July for the fiscal year.

The event’s panel included NIU faculty members Matt Streb, political science professor and chief of staff, and Jeremy Groves, economics associate professor and director of Graduate Studies.

Streb and Groves were joined on the panel by Deanna Cada, DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board director, Kristina Garcia, Conexion Comunidad executive director, and Mary Ellen Schaid, Safe Passage executive director. The event was moderated by Sean Crawford, NPR Illinois news director.

At the center of the event was a Q-and-A session between the panel and audience members. DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith, who became a DeKalb resident 56 years ago when he entered NIU as a graduate student, opened this portion of the event by addressing issues with the university’s enrollment, calling NIU the “single largest economic driver” in DeKalb.

“Believe me, the drop in enrollment has had a tremendous impact on the city of DeKalb,” Smith said. “We have heard that students across this state have been lured by other communities, other states, who perhaps even offered tuition because they know of the problems that Northern has.”

Streb acknowledged this claim with a story that followed the passing of a state budget in July.

“The week that the budget passed in the state of Illinois, our provost was at a provost conference and ran into a provost from a neighboring state who said to our provost ‘You just took away our recruiting strategy’ -- and was not joking,” Streb said.

Groves said the state is extremely lacking in funding to public and higher education, which has caused various problems for universities like NIU.