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Columnist
College leaders urge state to make reliable payments
By Kerry Lester | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/12/2010 12:00 AM

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The presidents of the state's public universities demanded more fiscal responsibility from Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes this week.

On Tuesday morning, 13 college officials - including Northern Illinois University's President John Peters, Eastern Illinois University President William Perry, University of Illinois at Urbana interim President Robert Easter and Paula Allan-Meares, president of the University of Illinois at Chicago - released a letter asking for a "reliable schedule for the payment of the state appropriation and swift action to resolve the state's financial crisis that now threatens our long-term viability."

College estimates noted that as of Jan. 25, public universities collectively are nearly $750 million behind in state payments. This has resulted in spending down cash reserves, furloughs, budget reductions, and salary and hiring freezes.

"We have done what we can to forestall this crisis by enacting countless measures to save resources and postpone payments until the last possible minute," the letter read.

"We have drawn down our available resources, and we are now counting on tuition dollars to keep our doors open for students beginning the new spring semester.

Still, no amount of cutting and sacrifice can make up for the absence of hundreds of millions of dollars in State Appropriation payments."

Without funding coming in anytime soon, the letter continued, colleges will be forced to take even more drastic actions.

We understand any solution to the fiscal crisis faced by our state will be difficult and painful but the more quickly the state embarks on the difficult path to recovery the less the damage.

We are eager to help craft such a solution and develop support. In the meantime we urge the state to honor its commitments by fully funding public university appropriations for (fiscal year) 2010. To that end, we request a reliable appropriation payment schedule be set and agreed to that will allow us to manage our respective cash flows for (fiscal year) 2010 and thereafter and sustain orderly operations."

Like colleges, school districts across the suburbs are awaiting millions of dollars in general state aid payments and categoricals. Elgin Area School District U-46 was nearly $13 million behind last week, according to Chief Financial Officer Ron Ally.

St. Charles District 303, which keeps a running tab of its missing payments from the state, is currently owed $2.5 million.

With next year, State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch has warned in a recent weekly message, could be even worse.

"The state utilized federal stimulus funds during FY 2009 and 2010 to make General State Aid payments and those federal funds are gone in FY 2011," Koch wrote. "In order for education to receive level funding during FY 2011, members of the General Assembly will either need to raise at least that much in new revenues or will have to reduce that much from other areas of government. I am hopeful that we will be level funded, but I think everyone must acknowledge the possibility of a substantial decrease in funding for this year," he wrote.

Kerry Lester covers Elgin Area School District U-46, Elgin Community College and Elgin private schools. E-mail klester@dailyherald.com.