From WILL - News Headlines -

Ill. Lawmakers Look Ahead at Higher Ed. Budget Plan

In the 11th hour of the 96th General Assembly, lawmakers in Springfield passed an income tax increase, which could chip away at unpaid bills to the state's universities.

But there is another measure in the Illinois House that will be introduced later this year sponsored by Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) and Rep. Chad Hays (R-Daville) that seeks to improve the economic outlook for higher education without raising taxes.

"How do we work together in a way that makes sense to do a better job with limited resources?" Hays said. "This is one small step in that direction, and my hope would be that we're having many of these conversations as we go forward."

The legislation would create a moratorium on new, unfunded mandates on state universities. University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy said even public policy with the best intentions can lead to mandates which make it difficult for universities to operate in a cost-effective way.

"You know, unfunded mandates that gets talked about frequently are tuition waivers," Hardy said. "That's something that should be looked at to free up potentially millions of dollars in tuition waivers that public universities across the state are funding."

The University of Illinois system is waiting on $413 million in reimbursements from the state. It has explored ways to improve its budget situation through furloughs, department consolidations, and a tuition hike. The U of I's Board of Trustees is slated to vote Jan. 20 on a series of fee increases for its students.

Hays noted that another important part of the legislation includes a provision that would create a single procurement officer who would coordinate purchases for every university in the state.

He added that the legislation was influenced by the recommendations of officials at the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University, and he expects the measure to be introduced in the spring.