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Illinois' more-than-two-year-long budget stalemate, which ended in July this year, clearly took its toll on the state's public higher-education system, enrollment figures show.
Public universities' head count dropped 2.3 percent from a year earlier, while community-college enrollment statewide was off 3.4 percent this fall compared with fall 2016, according to a preliminary report this month to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
The head count also was down at independent, nonprofit schools in Illinois but by just 1.9 percent.
Nationally, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1 percent from the previous fall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That includes a 0.2 percent drop at public four-year institutions and a 1.7 percent decline at public two-year institutions.
But the reduction was much more severe at most Illinois public universities, which went virtually without any state operating funds in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 while Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Legislature fought over the state budget and other issues.
The head count at Western Illinois University fell 11 percent this fall, followed by 10.9 percent at Chicago State, 9.8 percent at South-ern Illinois-Carbondale, 7.2 percent at Northeastern Illinois, 6.5 percent at Eastern Illinois, 5.4 percent at Governors State and 4.4 percent at Northern Illinois.
Only the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (up 0.2 percent) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (up 8.3 percent) reported enrollment gains.
Enrollment losses were even worse at some individual community colleges: off 5.4 percent at Parkland College, 11.4 percent at Richland Community College in Decatur, and 15.2 percent at Kaskaskia College in Centralia.
The IBHE offered no prediction on how higher education would fare in the fiscal year 2019 budget, but some higher-education officials in Illinois say they're afraid there could be another budget deadlock this spring and summer as Rauner and Democrats stake out political positions in advance of the November general election. A report this fall by Rauner's budget agency claimed that the current year's budget is about $2 billion out of balance, setting up a fundamental argument over state spending.
Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch, who will retire this week as the longest-serving treasurer in the county's history (more than 19 years) is leaving office during an unusually busy period.
His workload isn't usually this heavy in late December, but the federal tax changes made by Congress this month have meant an uptick in tax payments. Some property owners are prepaying in order to be able to maximize their 2017 income tax deductions.
"The advance payments are coming in hand over fist. Last year, 283 people paid $3.1 million" in advance payments, Welch said.
But through Thursday, $2.9 million had already been collected in advance payments this year.
"We've allowed this for as long as I can remember, way before I became treasurer," he said. "It's just a matter of if somebody wants to pay in advance, it's just less that we have to collect later on."
Welch noted that of the 74,000 owner-occupied properties in Champaign County, 1,256 had property tax bills of more than $10,000.
The new tax bill limits deductions for state and local property, income and sales taxes to $10,000, beginning next year.
Welch said the treasurer's office will accept prepayments through Dec. 31. Taxpayers can pay a minimum of 50 percent and a maximum of 110 of last year's tax bill, he said.
One of eight Democrats seeking his party's nomination for Illinois attorney general, state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood reported on Christmas Eve a $295,000 contribution to campaign fund.
Most of it — $170,000 — came from himself. He also reported $125,0000 from his father, Larry Drury of Highland Park.
Among the other Democrats seeking the nomination for attorney general are former Gov. Pat Quinn, state Sen. Kawme Raoul, former federal prosecutors Sharon Fairley and Renato Mariotti, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Chicago Park District board President Jesse Ruiz, and Aaron Goldstein, a onetime defense attorney for ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
All eight Democratic candidates are from either Cook or Lake counties.
There are two Republican candidates, Erika Harold of Urbana and Gary Grasso of Burr Ridge, although an objection has been filed to Grasso's candidate petitions.
Betsy Londrigan, one of five Democrats seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in the 13th Congressional District, has picked up another endorsement: this one from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, who has been called the most liberal Democrat in the Illinois delegation and the 10th most liberal in the entire House.
"Congress needs more women like Betsy Dirksen Londrigan in Congress to help stop the radical agenda pushed by Donald Trump and Paul Ryan," Schakowsky said.
Londrigan, of Springfield, has also been endorsed by Emily's List and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at email@example.com.