Illinois budget stalemate hits U. of I. campus

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URBANA, Ill. — The state budget standoff already has some programs and projects on hold at the University of Illinois, and faculty and others say they’re nervous about what might be ahead.

Gov. Bruce Rauner wants deep state spending cuts and has frozen a number of programs until a budget for the new fiscal year is complete. On Thursday, he vetoed most of a $36.3 billion budget approved by legislators. It was more than $3 billion short on needed revenue.

According to The News-Gazette, projects to improve the country’s power grid and install solar panels on the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building on the Urbana-Champaign campus are on hold. And the Illinois Smart Energy Design Assistance Center in Champaign will close Tuesday, putting several dozen employees out of work at least temporarily.

Earlier this year, Rauner proposed a 31.5 percent cut in higher-education spending. The state provides only about 11 percent of the university’s $5.6 billion operating budget, but the governor’s first proposed cut in that state appropriation would still mean a loss of more than $200 million.

U. of I. President Timothy Killeen and other presidents of public universities have since met with the governor and his staff to try to convince him to cut less.

Killeen said he hopes the final figure is closer to the 8.6 percent cut approved by legislators in their proposed budget. That would mean a cut of about $57 million in state operating money.

“Undoubtedly, there’s anxiety at some level. It’s not just the University of Illinois. It’s across the state of Illinois,” Killeen said.

Rauner approved spending increases for primary and secondary education last week, but he did not sign off on higher education spending. Killeen said the governor’s approval for increased funding for public schools gives him hope for state spending on public universities.

Professor Matthew Ando, head of the Math Department in Urbana, said the wait to find out what they will have to work with is weighing on university employees.

“The impact on students and on our ability to teach courses would be pretty big if we had to absorb the kinds of cuts that are being talked about quickly,” he said. “But there’s so much uncertainty right now about what’s going to happen.”

Earlier this year, the university appointed a task force to prepare for budget cuts.

Killeen declined to say what the task force is considering as it prepares to live with less money, but “everything is on the table.”

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