University bill advances

Without debate, the Illinois Senate on Friday unanimously passed legislation that would give the General Assembly more say in how public universities spend state funds.

The bill reflects an agreement to change from lump-sum appropriations for universities to a budget that outlines expenditures by category, said its sponsor, state Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago.

The legislation is the result of weeks of negotiations between the governor's office, the universities, the Board of Higher Education and members of the legislature.

It requires state appropriations to public universities to identify amounts to be spent for personal services, state contributions to Social Security, for Medicare, contractual services, travel, commodities, equipment, operation of automotive equipment, telecommunications, awards and grants and permanent improvements.

The legislation is less stringent than a bill del Valle was pushing earlier this spring requiring even more detailed line-item spending plans.

That bill could potentially have given the governor power to eliminate or reduce funding for individual jobs or programs before passing the universities' budgets. It also would have required state budget legislation to designate individual spending plans for each of the three University of Illinois campuses.

Rick Schoell, director of government relations for the UI, said the university had concerns about that bill but was in support of the compromise version the Senate approved Friday.

"We think this will provide the appropriate amount of accountability and disclosure," Schoell said.

Some lawmakers from both parties have complained that the current practice of giving universities lump sums at the start of each fiscal year did not give the General Assembly an accurate picture of how the money was being spent. Universities already provide the state with a detailed accounting of how they plan to use the money, but those spending plans are not set into binding formal budget legislation.

The bill the Senate approved Friday also would require each university to provide a report to the Board of Higher Education, the governor and the General Assembly documenting all of the institution's revenues and expenditures for each budget year within 120 days of the year's end.

"We're certainly comfortable with that," Schoell said.The bill must still be approved by the House before it heads to the governor's desk.

You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at kclements@news-gazette.com.

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