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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

Budget Director: Western Can Breathe Sigh of Relief

Rich Egger

Illinois lawmakers have passed bipartisan legislation to allocate $600-million to higher education. Governor Bruce Rauner is expected to sign the measure.

Under the deal, Western Illinois University would receive about $15-million worth of state appropriations and another $5-million in reimbursements for covering MAP grant funding for low-income students this school year.

“The campus should take a sigh of relief and take a deep breath. This is very good news for us. This gets us securely to August, but we will still likely to have to use auxiliary fund," said Western's Budget Director Matt Bierman.

The money will help the University operate through the summer while the legislature and governor work to pass budgets for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

“It buys us some time and gives us some breathing room. This really can’t be the end because it really just kicks the can down the road for us on some of the things," said Bierman. "But, I don’t want to play this down. I want the campus to realize this is a great thing that happened.”

Western and the other public colleges and universities in Illinois have gone more than 9 months without state aid.  In that time, Western has spent it’s $23-million of reserve funds. Earlier this week the Board of Trustees approved the use of auxiliary funds as a last resort.

Western has also announced hefty cuts including elimination of some academic programs and faculty and staff layoffs, as well as the implementation of a furlough program. Western's Budget Director Matt Bierman said the state aid will not affect the 110 layoffs announced last week, but could help keep Western from having to make further reductions to personnel.

“Keep in mind any layoffs that we have announced, there’s less than a handful of those that have actually happened yet,” Bierman said. “So, we haven’t seen any savings from any of these layoffs we announce, they are in the future.”

Bierman said Western expected to receive about $48-million worth of state appropriations for the the 2016 fiscal year in addition to another $10-million in MAP funding.

This stop gap measure releases about $20-million which is a third of Western’s regular state appropriations. All the institutions received about a third of the normal state appropriations except for Chicago State University which received double that.

The financial breakdown by college of SB 2059

Bierman called the bill a true bipartisan effort. He said lawmakers have spent most of April trying to  reach agreement with budgeters meeting regularly to develop a compromise proposal.

He said Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) was one of the budgeters negotiating on behalf of WIU and all of public higher education.

“She [Hammond] represented us well and I know she had to take some votes that she didn’t want to get it done and I know she wasn’t in love with this one because it doesn’t really get us what we need. But, it is a bridge to get us through summer.”

Bierman said the money will go toward paying for daily operations, salaries and student graduation ceremonies.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.