SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget chief wants universities to hand control of their tuition money over to the state, saying there is not enough accountability in the current system.
"It's just good accounting and good management," said John Filan, director of the governor's Bureau of the Budget. "It's about disclosure and accountability."
University officials say there is already plenty of accountability in how those funds are used, in the form of various reports and audits.
Filan is backing a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, and state Rep. Ricca Slone, D-Peoria Heights, to require the public universities to remit all tuition, library and lab fees to the state, where they would be placed into a special fund for each institution.
The General Assembly would then appropriate money as it saw fit from those accounts to the universities for their operations.
"Our concern is much more how the money is spent, why it is spent that way and what is truly needed from the state to meet that obligation," Filan said.
The proposal received a weak reception from the House higher education appropriations committee, and the universities and their student governments are opposed to it.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Manuel Sanchez, chairman of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees.
The bill would be a return to the practice prior to 1996, when the state changed the law to give universities control over their own tuition income funds.
State Rep. David Wirsing, R-Sycamore, sponsored that legislation back then.
"The politics got so strong that (state control of the income funds) was restricting the universities' ability to operate," Wirsing said. "Dollars were not being used well, and that's why we felt the need to make that change."
University officials say the current system gives them more flexibility to address unexpected crises, whereas handing the money over to the state creates a lag time of about a year before the money can be spent.
For instance, this year at the University of Illinois, 4,200 more students enrolled than expected, said Chet Gardner, vice president for academic affairs. The UI used their tuition money immediately to add 1,100 classes to accommodate them.
In a letter protesting the bill, Andrew Erskine, chairman of governmental affairs for Illinois Student Government, said the university is in a better position than the state to decide how tuition dollars should be spent.
"Being on-site, working with students, faculty, administration and staff, both in day-to-day operations and in forward-focused initiatives, provides an invaluable experience that the Illinois House and Senate cannot possibly grasp," Erskine wrote. "Our students do not feel that the state should have sole discretion in the expenditure of these funds when our campus has a clearer understanding of where and how that money is needed."
Opponents of the bill also said it could hurt the universities' bond ratings and hamper their ability to pay vendors on time.
The University of Illinois derives about $324 million of its approximately $3 billion operating budget from its tuition and income fund.
House votes to raise state's smoking age
SPRINGFIELD -The Illinois House voted Thursday to raise the smoking age in Illinois to 19, but 18-year-olds in the military would be exempted from the law.
State Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, said more than 80 percent of all adult smokers become addicted before the age of 18, and his bill would prevent older high school students who smoke from negatively influencing their younger peers.
His voice strained with emotion, state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, urged members to vote no.
The Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission estimated the state would lose $38 million in the first two years after the age was raised to 19, money that would have gone to public schools, he said.
"The easiest thing for me would be to vote for this bill," Black said. "I do not smoke. I do not choose to be around people who do. I have a very personal reason. My mother smoked from the age of 14 until she died on June 20, 1968. She was 56 years old. A positively beautiful woman and I miss her every day. She didn't even live to see her grandchildren. She died of lung cancer and she died of emphysema and it wasn't a pleasant thing to watch."
But Black, a former teacher, said the state can't afford to give up $38 million in education money unless there is a dramatic change in the way public schools are funded.
"The General Assembly created this monster," he said. "We rely on this tax."
The state is currently facing an estimated deficit as high as $5 billion.
Fritchey said he did not buy Black's argument because the state is already spending $8.7 million a day on tobacco-related health care.
"We're talking about saving tens of millions of dollars a year, we're talking about saving tens of thousands of lives," Fritchey said.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and state Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, all voted for the bill.
It passed on a vote of 80 to 32, with four members voting present. It now heads to the Senate, where its fate is unclear.
Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, is a smoker and the Senate still allows smoking in the chamber.
"He'll take a look at it when it gets here," said Jones' spokeswoman, Cindy Davidsmeyer.
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org