Rauner calls for $209 million cut to U of I budget
In his budget address Feb. 18, Gov. Bruce Rauner called for state funding to the University of Illinois to be cut by 31.5 percent — nearly $209 million, including about $60 million at UIC — for fiscal year 2016.
“A budget cut of that magnitude would substantially harm our students and the people of Illinois by most severely impacting the university’s core education and research missions,” University of Illinois President Robert Easter said in a statement.
To address the state’s $5 billion shortfall, Rauner’s proposed budget includes $387 million in cuts to the state’s higher education institutions. He is also calling for current state workers to move into the state pension plan for new hires, which offers lower benefits. The pension shift, he said, could save the state $2.2 billion.
Rauner’s proposed budget requires approval from the state legislature, which is in session through May.
“This is the first step in a pretty long budget process,” said Christophe Pierre, university vice president for academic affairs. “It’s certainly not welcome news.”
The Illinois Board of Higher Education instructed state universities to plan for a 20 percent reduction in state appropriations — about $40 million to UIC, said Janet Parker, associate chancellor and vice provost for budget and resource planning. UIC administrators have been preparing budgets with that significant cut in mind, Parker said, but a 31.5 percent cut is a higher reduction than expected.
“Even a 20 percent cut can be very devastating to UIC,” she said.
“We’re hopeful that it won’t be a 31.5 percent reduction. Our state budget covers mostly salary expenses so it would mean that staff layoffs would be likely. Faculty would be protected, but if we have vacant faculty positions or retirements, we may not be able to fill those positions.”
Significant state budget cuts could also mean that deferred maintenance projects would be put on hold, she said.
Impact on quality of programs, services
UIC’s budget planning staff will meet with new Chancellor Michael Amiridis after he takes office March 16 to determine whether cuts would be made across the board, Parker said. If a state budget has not been approved by July 1, the campus can continue operations through its tuition dollars, but “how do we allocate reductions without knowing what the level will be?” she said.
“The continued erosion of our budget over time really will start impacting the quality of our programs and service delivery,” Parker said.
At the university level, budget planners are developing a range of options to address the cuts, Pierre said.
“With cuts of this magnitude, we’ll have to look at pretty much all aspects of operations,” he said. “Our key priority will be to preserve our teaching mission and the quality of our degrees, especially undergraduate degrees for Illinois residents. Part of that is really preserving our faculty and staff.”
Administrators will create budget models to ensure that the university can recruit and retain top faculty, Pierre said. Employee furloughs are not being considered, he said.
The Board of Trustees approved a proposal in January to keep tuition flat for next year’s incoming freshman class. That plan will not change, Pierre said.
“We’re going to make the case that our trustees decided to freeze tuition in order to increase access to the university and enhance affordability for Illinois residents,” Pierre said. “We’re certainly hoping that this was an important good faith step and we’re hoping that it’s going to be taken into account.”
University administrators will aggressively examine ways to boost revenue from other sources, such as increasing enrollment and attracting more research funding and alumni donors, Pierre said.
UIC budget planners are also looking into ways to lower costs, such as reducing off-campus leases, restructuring debt payments and changing UIC’s financial aid policy without impacting enrollment and access, Parker said.
U of I lobbyists will be advocating for the university during the legislative session in Springfield, Pierre said. “We will be working with the state and making our case that the university is an essential resource to the state that really needs to be preserved,” he said.