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State budget woes affecting public universities

Education in Illinois is suffering as the result of a $13 billion budget deficit and a proposed $1.3 billion in educational cuts – so much that some public universities are asking faculty to prevent printing and using paper and ink if possible.
The state government appropriates a certain dollar amount annually to public universities. While universities generate income from other sources, such as grants and tuition payments, they rely heavily on the state money, said Rod Sievers, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale spokesman.
The state told SIUC it would receive $166 million by the end of the fiscal year, which is in June. But the school has received less than half that amount with only two months until the fiscal year ends.
“It’s a cash flow problem,” Sievers said. “It’s a pretty big chunk of change not to have.”
Public universities such as SIUC are being forced to freeze hiring and spending, almost to a minute level. 
“If you don’t have to print anything, don’t,” Sievers said. “Just getting paid is our No. 1 priority.”
The financial struggle is felt statewide – Western Illinois University spokeswoman Darcie Shinberger said the school is deferring maintenance projects until more cash comes in.
A broken elevator in the school’s library won’t be repaired until there are funds to do so, she said. An inoperable toilet will remain so until the budget eases a little. 
“We’ve had two main goals during this whole fiscal crisis,” Shinberger said. “To meet payroll obligations and to provide the necessary services to our students. They may see it in the physical aspects, like a drinking fountain that may not be repaired, but not in services.”
Western is waiting on $26.3 million from the state before the end of the fiscal year, after receiving a little more than $9 million in appropriations so far, as well as about $3.5 million in federal stimulus funds.
But while stimulus money has helped some schools stay afloat, they are one-time-only revenue sources.
SIU-C received about $7 million in stimulus funding, but Sievers said the absence of that money in next year’s budget will make the next year “touch and go.”
Unless lawmakers raise the personal income tax from 3 to 4 percent and the corporate rate from 4.8 percent to 5.8 percent, public education funding will be cut by $1.3 billion, Gov. Pat Quinn has said.
The tax hikes would generate $2.8 billion a year to pay off money the state already owes schools and prevent further cuts, he said. Public universities are waiting on more than $840 million in payments.
But state support for higher education has been dicey for a while, Illinois State University spokesman Jay Groves said. 
“It’s not something that just jumped up and hit us,” he said. Still, the school has received less than half of its appropriated $85 million from the state, resulting in hiring freezes. The school also decided to not offer salary increases.
Groves said ISU will likely have to hike tuition to deal with the school’s fiscal issues. The move isn’t a surprise, especially when the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has proposed a 20-percent increase in tuition. Western will look at possible tuition increases in June.
But despite leaving some bills unpaid and some positions unfilled, Sievers said SIUC is hoping to keep its students satisfied.
“We’re going to do a zero tuition increase,” he said. “We think we’ll be alright.”
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