Budget Stalemate ends, brings temporary relief to NEIU

Sarahy Lopez, News Editor

The budget stalemate that affected NEIU and other public universities and colleges has ended, bringing a source of funding and relief to the university. The proposed budget will keep NEIU running well into the next year.

“I’m delighted to utter the words we have a budget,” said Interim President Helldobler during the town hall budget meeting on July 13. “It was because of your advocacy, letter-writing campaigns, demonstrations, emails, posters, tweets and Facebook posts,” he said. “We can now properly plan the upcoming year.”

After two years without a budget plan or funding for public education, lawmakers were able to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a proposed budget plan. The plan will provide public universities with a total of $1.1 billion.

The money in the new budget will fully fund MAP grants for all the students that qualify in the fiscal year of 2017 and 2018, said President Helldobler. About $1.2 million will be used to repair some buildings as well, such as Bernard J. Brommel Hall, Buildings H and J and the Physical Education Complex.

The university will be provided about $17 million for the fiscal year 2017. Together with the funding from the Stopgap 2 plan, the amount of funding is equal to what the university received in the fiscal year 2015.

For the fiscal year 2018, NEIU is hoping to receive about $33.2 million, however, it is a 10 percent decrease than what the university received in 2015. This is likely going to affect how NEIU will operate, according to President Helldobler and Vice President of Finance Michael Pierick.

“State pension changes will shift the pension cost group from the state to the university,” said President Helldobler. “That 10 percent is really deeper when you factor in the new pension costs.”

The recently passed budget does not give anything back for the fiscal year 2016, which leaves NEIU lacking about $26 million that was supposed to be set aside by the state to fund the university. While the budget brings temporary relief to the uncertainty and fears that circled NEIU’s future, it also allows time to plan strategically for the upcoming year, according to President Helldobler.

“But I want to reiterate that we can no longer afford to be the university that we’ve become. We must work together to begin to find solutions for this very critical issue.The state’s financial and political landscape is forcing us to become a Northeastern that operates differently,” said Helldobler.

Michael Pierick stated that they’re not sure when the school will receive the funding, and students should expect to hear more in the weeks to come. As for 2019, the university should be prepared to see the worst, a zero fiscal year budget should political challenges arise, says Pierick. Meaning that the university should prepare for another budget-less year if they are denied funding again. Increased pensions and health insurance will severely affect NEIU in the fiscal year of 2019.

Michael Pierick concluded in the budget town hall meeting by saying that layoffs will continue, stopping the pause that the university initiated. “We must take care of the future of the university. We’ve decided that the university will remain open and we must ensure that by being very fiscally conservative,” Pierick stated.

The lack of a budget and the state’s political climate had pushed the university to fire 180 employees in order to remain open during the summer and fall semesters. At that point, there was little chance of a budget approval from the state and the university expected to receive about $9 million savings from the layoffs and furlough days.

It was more important for students to continue their education without interruption or closure, according to President Helldobler. “We provide them the keys to their future, a better life–the American dream,” he said in a news conference on May 30.

While this new budget will temporarily fix and bring stability to the university, the future is still unclear.

“I’ll meet with anybody, anytime, any place, to talk about our students and the great work that we do at this university because I continue to believe in it. But that doesn’t mean that we can control the outcome in Springfield. And therefore we must be prepared for the worst, and yet continue to advocate and hope for the best. And I know after two long years, that’s a really hard message to hear. But that is, in fact, the message. We are going to be here for our students. My goal is to keep the university open,” Hellobbler said. “I have no intention of not advocating for this university every single chance I get.”