SB 2059 Passes

Erika Ward

 The Illinois House and Senate passed SB 2059 on Friday morning, which aims to provide emergency funding to public colleges and universities in Illinois, as well as some MAP grant funding.

 In the midst of a 10-month long budget impasse with no funding going towards higher education, the small amount of relief that is available is welcomed. However the relief is meant to be enough to keep the schools afloat.

 “We are relieved to have some measure of funding for this fiscal year,” said Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas.  “While this is but a fraction of our state appropriation, this certainly will help, and we appreciate those emergency funds.”

 Thomas expressed that while the university is thankful for the relief, the school is hoping for more appropriations.

 “We remain hopeful for additional funding for this fiscal year, and for adequate funding for public higher education,” Thomas said.  “We thank the legislators for passing this bill to assist with public higher education’s current financial challenges, and we are happy that the governor has committed to signing the bill.”

 Thomas was scheduled to testify before a House committee on Thursday to speak on the struggles that public colleges and universities in the state are facing by not receiving state appropriations.  However, his testimony was cancelled because of ongoing discussions about SB 2059.

 The emergency bill comes just days after Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced that members of the Illinois General Assembly and other Constitutional Officers would have delayed paychecks until a balanced budget was achieved in the state.

 “Our social service network is being dismantled, mass layoffs are occurring and small businesses across Illinois are awaiting payments for services they’ve already provided,” Munger said in a press release.  “As our cash crunch grows in the coming months, it is only appropriate that the unfair prioritization of payments to elected leaders ends.  We are all in this together, we all will wait in line.”

 While the discussion of SB 2059 was happening on Thursday, the issue was pulled at the very last second and the vote pushed to Friday, when it passed both the House and Senate. Rauner is expected to sign the bill.

 “By passing this bipartisan agreement, lawmakers in both chambers put aside political differences to provide emergency assistance for higher education, ensuring universities and community colleges remain open and low-income students can pay for school,” said Rauner’s Press Secretary, Catherine Kelly, in a press release.  “We are hopeful that the General Assembly will build on this bipartisan momentum in the weeks ahead as we negotiate a balanced budget with reform for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.”

 Western, which received $51.4 million in FY15, is expected to see 31 percent of its budget, or $14,911,400.  MAP grant funding in the state is expected to receive 43 percent of its budget, or $169,798,100.  Western will receive $5 million for MAP grants, compared to $11 million in FY15.  In total, the bill plans to release $600,000,100 for higher education. 

 The money is coming from the Educational Assistance Fund (EAF).

 “Again, we are pleased with this measure to provide some level of funding for Fiscal Year 2016,” Thomas said in a letter to the community. 

 “However, this emergency funding does not negate the difficult decisions we recently were forced to make regarding layoffs and furloughs.  We will re-examine these recent decisions in the coming days.  If additional funding becomes available, there may be an opportunity to recall a select number of employees.”

 To date, Western has implemented multiple cost-saving measures, including a retirement incentive plan — which aims to save $1.5 million annually — multiple layoffs, a furlough program, mandatory pay cuts and more.

 “While we still have a long way to go before this fiscal crisis facing public higher education is over, the passage of this bill provides some reassurance that the state is committed to public higher education,” Thomas said in the letter.  “We believe this stop-gap measure will alleviate some concerns that our students and prospective students, and their families, may have about higher education in
the state.”

 “WIU will remain open and this funding further solidifies that in August, we will be moving students into our residence halls and engaging students in our classrooms.”