SPRINGFIELD — Upset over annual public university tuition increases, state Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, wanted to do something about it: Enact a corresponding percentage cut in the salaries of top university administrators.
She almost got her bill (HB 5654) out of committee on Wednesday. It failed to get enough yes votes in the House Higher Education Committee, but she pledged to amend it to make it more acceptable to committee members.
Davis' new plan — suggested by the chair of the committee, Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana — is to freeze the salaries of top administrators when there is a tuition increase. An amended bill presumably will be heard in the same committee next week.
"As we see so often, universities are increasing their tuition and basing it, their claim is, on inflation and so forth," Davis said. "At the same time students' and family incomes are not increasing. I think they would be a little more careful increasing tuition if they knew their salary could be reduced by that percent."
The University of Illinois, Western Illinois University and Northern Illinois University all registered as opponents to the bill but offered no testimony.
"Our young people are leaving college with the debt of a house," Davis said. "Some people are even questioning whether they'll ever make that kind of a salary to pay that tuition back."
But a number of Republicans on the committee criticized the bill.
"Some of this increase is the result of the failure of the state to pay what we have budgeted for the higher ed institutions," said Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Sycamore. "And they have no recourse but to look at the students and their other corporate funds. Don't you think that there is some cause-and-effect relationship here?"
But Davis insisted that "the high salaries they are appropriating themselves is a great cause for this deficit."
Pritchard said the boards of trustees that approve the high administrative salaries should be targeted.
Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, said he feared the law "would intentionally create a conflict where a board of trustees would be mandated by law to break an existing contract where I presume a sitting president would have existing rights under the law. This would almost necessarily create a lawsuit."
Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, asked if lawmakers should be subject to the same kind of legislation.
"What would we say if our salaries were tied to having a real balanced budget?" Hays said. "Or if we dramatically overspent revenue, or when our bond rating goes down or salary goes down? Or when a basketball coach loses a game, his salary goes down?
"I'm hesitant to use this as a mechanism to get to where you want to go to."
Jakobsson said she believed the Legislature contributed to the universities' financial problems.
"There were a number of years since I've been here where higher education either saw no increase or a couple of times saw decreases in their budget," she said. "And even when they were supposed to stay level (funding), they weren't getting the money the state owed them. So there are some problems that we have probably contributed to, causing these increases in tuition."