Universities asked to explore budget cuts

 
Associated Press
Updated 11/24/2014 4:45 PM
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SPRINGFIELD -- The head of the Illinois Board of Higher Education has issued a budget warning to the presidents of the state's public universities after meeting with Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner's budget transition team.

Executive Director James Applegate sent an email to the presidents, obtained by the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers, saying the schools should be prepared for possible funding cuts of up to 30 percent over the next 18 months. He described it as "bad budget news."

"They have asked us to prepare a budget recommendation for (fiscal year 2016) involving a 20 percent reduction. We may also be asked to create spending reserves of 5 percent or 10 percent out of our existing budget for the remainder of (fiscal year 2015)," Applegate wrote.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf told The Associated Press on Monday that the Republican's transition team was not ordering budget cuts but seeking information on how a rollback of the state's temporary income tax would affect state agencies.

Schrimpf said the team met with officials from many agencies -- not just the universities -- as part of Rauner's own budget preparing process. He said the agencies were asked to "be prepared to talk about" budgets without the extra spending "as a starting point."

"This was purely a fact-gathering process," Schrimpf said. "This was not some kind of edict. ... They were not told that this would be their budget." During the gubernatorial campaign, Rauner opposed a proposal by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn to lock in a temporary 2011 income tax increase, which is scheduled to drop back from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1. Rauner is scheduled to deliver his own budget plans in February.

In his email, Applegate noted that "it is a long way until February and we are hopeful that the ultimate results will be less dire."

University administrators said the request to prepare for bad news wasn't a surprise.

"We knew something like this was coming," Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn said. "We've spent some time trying to get our ducks in a row."

Dunn said 20 percent in cuts would total $40.2 million across SIU's campuses.

Illinois State University spokesman Jay Groves said possible cuts could affect scholarships for low-income students, deferred maintenance and the university's ability to attract students.

Eastern Illinois University President William Perry said he wants more information before saying what the reductions could mean.

"It is still early in the budget process, which involves many constituencies. I do not wish to comment on budget impacts until we are further along in the process, and when tax issues are resolved," Perry said.

Schrimpf said Rauner "is taking seriously his duty to responsibly manage the broken budget he will inherit and is also beginning preparations for next fiscal year."

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