Illinois budget crisis leading to ‘brain drain’

Jeff Burnett, Staff Writer

The University of Illinois Springfield is pushing ahead without any direct funding from the state, since a budget stalemate for more than a year has stopped all disbursements coming from the Illinois government.

“We’ve been able to survive because of the strength of the University of Illinois system,” Director of Public Relations, Derek Schnapp said. “We have a pretty good reserve.”

The university has been using reserve funds from the University of Illinois System to make up for the shortfall of funding it is not receiving from the state.

It has been making measures to limit its expenditures by halting “step” pay increases for personnel, travel restrictions for its staff, and closely monitoring new hires.

“I don’t think any of the universities can survive at the level we need them to operate without adequate state funding,” former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar said. “And the smaller state universities… it’s devastating”

Governors State University announced in a statement last Tuesday that it will be closing its Illinois Small Business Development Center and its SBDC International Trade Center due the budget crisis. Other universities, like Western Illinois University and Chicago State University, have made major cut backs.

“Even if you got a budget tomorrow really serious damage has already been done,” said Gov. Edgar.

Gov. Edgar said that higher education is an important factor to the state’s economic system and more students could end up leaving for other schools, and not return for employment opportunities. Higher education faculty could also be looking for other opportunities outside of the state due to the uncertainty of the budget crisis. “That brain drain would be devastating to the economy of the state,” Gov. Edgar said.

In April, Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders agreed on a stop-gap that would allocate $600 million in funding for universities and colleges to stay open through the summer. The bill also helped repay institutions that were self-funding the Monetary Award Program (MAP) that eligible students receive from the state.

“This last stop-gap measure that the legislature passed helped pay us back partially,” said Schnapp.

In the fiscal year 2015, the university’s overall revenue was roughly $89 million with around $18 million coming from the state, which accounts for 20 percent of its revenue. Eighty percent of the revenue the school takes in comes from tuition and fees from students, known as institutional funds. Most of the fees are allocated for specific offerings like recreation, technology, and housing. Grants from various sources are also a part of the university’s revenue.

The General Assembly has been in gridlock over passing a comprehensive budget for the past year and a half. Gov. Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) have been at odds over the governor’s “turnaround agenda” that calls for workers compensation, pension, and tax reform. The governor included some of these elements in his proposed budget, but both parties in the legislature could not agree on the terms.

“It’s going to take the governor and the speaker, in particular, are going to have to come together,” Gov. Edgar said. “I really think we’re going have to concentrate on the budget.”