June 5, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

The spring legislative session of the Illinois General Assembly wrapped up last Friday evening, and the outcomes were decidedly mixed.  

On one hand, lawmakers kept the upcoming fiscal 2014 appropriation for public universities at current levels, averting a proposed cut. On the other, they couldn't agree on a plan for revamping Illinois' underfunded public pensions systems, an issue of critical importance to all of us and to the state.

And while the legislature made changes in Medicaid provisions that should help the University's hospital and health care system and exempted our campuses from a law that permits the concealed carry of firearms, time expired before final consideration of our negotiated changes to procurement reform and to regulations for re-employment of retirees.

It remains to be seen whether the governor and legislative leaders will call a special summer session to act on ''unfinished business,'' or wait until the regular fall session in November. Gov. Pat Quinn, who had proposed a 5 percent ($32 million) reduction in the fiscal 2014 U of I appropriation, has the summer to deliberate on the budget approved by legislators and whether he will make amendatory vetoes to it.

The appropriation of approximately $664 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1 marks the first time in three years that direct state revenue support for the University wasn't cut. This outcome reflects a unified voice among public universities in Illinois and advocacy by the U of I -- including our grassroots Illinois Connection supporters -- to hold the line on state support given financial efficiencies we've made and an increasingly untenable tuition burden on our students. I thank the legislators for recognizing these efforts and continuing our level of funding.

Similarly, a core U of I mission -- medical teaching and healthcare for underserved communities -- was a legislative priority that won support. Changes we advocated in Medicaid reimbursement, eligibility and services were approved and should allow our hospital and clinics to better provide preventative services and care to our communities when the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

The greatest frustration of the session, of course, was the legislature's failure to solve the benefits-and-funding puzzle for the state's public pension systems, including the State Universities Retirement System (SURS). A responsible and reliable pension system is imperative if we are to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff. Public universities, again, took a united stance in advocating on behalf of what we considered reasonable changes to keep the systems viable, but ultimately neither legislative chamber could agree on the other's approach.  

Consequently, changes we negotiated to reduce regulatory red tape in University procurement for research and health care, as well as in implementation of a retiree ''return to work'' law that now will go into effect Aug. 1, were caught up in the pensions logjam and were not voted on by legislators.

Our elected officials in Springfield acknowledged that they have work left unfinished. The U of I team will continue to be there with them, providing our expert analysis, information, and advocacy.  


Robert A. Easter
President, University of Illinois
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