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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.

Universities, Others Still Waiting for Full State Budget

Rich Egger
Sherman Hall, the oldest building on the WIU campus in Macomb.

Time is winding down on Illinois' stop-gap spending measure, which expires in early January. But many state lawmakers are in campaign mode so nothing is being done to complete a full budget for Illinois.

Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas said that is unacceptable.

"When we do meet with legislators, even in my testimonies, they say that they understand. But you don’t see any action. So we’re going to continue to put the pressure on and encourage them," said Dr. Thomas.

The stop-gap measure was approved on June 30, the final day of Fiscal Year 2016. The state went that entire fiscal year without a budget and it still does not have one for the current fiscal year. Thomas said that creates a great deal of uncertainty for public universities and other services that rely on state funding.

Western and Illinois' other public universities went more than nine months last fiscal year without receiving any state payments. The situation forced WIU to deplete its reserves.   

Some cash from the state finally arrived in late April, and the stop-gap spending plan provided more money this summer, but the total still falls far short of what WIU would normally expect. 

Matt Bierman, WIU Vice President for Administrative Services, said the school is receiving around $46 million to pay for operations for the 18 month period that includes all of last fiscal year and the first six months of the current fiscal year. 

"We would have expected to receive $77 million (for the 18 month period). So you can imagine that difference of more than $30 million has an impact on us and we need them to realize the value of higher education," Bierman said.

In the meantime, WIU is doing what it can to plan for the future. 

The Board of Trustees approved an appropriated budget request of nearly $136 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017.  That money will pay for campus operations in Macomb and Moline, salary increases for some employees, deferred maintenance, student aid, and other expenses.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.