Surviving sans budget and the resulting trickle down effect

chump-moneyLearning to live on a budget is something that many college students need to adjust to sooner or later. For those who have mastered such a feat, Bravo! You are doing better than the State of Illinois.

Since July 1st our state government has been at an impasse when it comes to establishing its fiscal year budget. The House and Senate Democrats approved a FY 2016 budget last May, but Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed it because the planned budget was $4 billion over the expected $33 billion revenue for the year. In year’s past, such a budget would still be approved and the state would function over budget.

According to Comptroller Leslie Munger, despite the lack of budget, 90 percent of the state’s bills are still being paid. If any of you have ever spent money without regard to a budget, you know as well as I do that such spending is a recipe for disaster. Something important, like rent or food or electricity, will always be affected by such disregard. Still, that is how our government has been running for the past six months.

Social service agencies are one of the biggest programs affected by the governments’ budget problems. The United Way has stated that 75 percent of social service agencies have had to cut services, and nearly one in three of them expect to run out of money within a month.

Lottery winners are not receiving payments if they won more than $600. A number of vendors have stopped doing business with the state government, and services, such as power to the Capitol, may get completely shut off if changes don’t take place soon.

How does this affect me?

You may be wondering, “How does this affect me?” If you are among the students receiving grant funding, you have some idea. Public colleges like Black Hawk function due to the help of state funding in many ways. Over the years, that funding has dwindled a little at a time. To keep college programs going, colleges look to other sources of revenue and tuition.

In some cases that means increasing tuition rates, which Black Hawk did for this school year. A meeting was held early last year discussing the expected budget deficit FY 15-16, and the board ultimately voted to raise tuition for Illinois residents from $120 per credit hour to $135 per credit hour. Given the current state budget impasse, more changes may be coming to Black Hawk College.

November 2nd, Gov. Rauner spoke to an audience of education and business leaders at Illinois Central College and addressed the budget impasse issue.

“I know you’re scrambling because we don’t have a budget,” Rauner stated. “I apologize.” Then he promised, “I refuse to let any reductions for community colleges happen even though we don’t have a budget.”

Such a declaration may leave one questioning, “That doesn’t sound like a very realistic promise.”

Mid October came with an announcement to merge Black Hawk College East Campus athletics with Quad Cities Campus. Dr. Bettie Truitt, Black Hawk College president, explained, “This decision was very difficult and one that was not made lightly. The uncertainty of state funding and rising costs contributed to this decision.” This merger will go into effect at the end of the 2015-16 academic year and will save the college $150,000 annually.

In early November, Truitt sent out a letter to the Black Hawk College community announcing the suspension of non-essential travel, non-critical hiring searches, reduction of course offerings that don’t align with current degree requirements, expansion of bundled offerings for fall 2016, and continue conservative offerings in Adult Education for spring 2016. A lot of these changes impact the faculty and staff, but the trickle down could, and likely will, impact the students.

On November 20th, Black Hawk College sent out a press release detailing some of the ways that they expect to deal with budget shortfalls “due to the uncertainty created from the state budget crisis.” It stated that if the state doesn’t resolve the budget impasse by January, changes will be coming. Steve Frommelt, vice president for finance and administration at the college, commented that Fall 2015 had about 10% reduce enrollment, creating an additional budget deficit of $1 million.

“Our phase 1 plan addresses the immediate need to cover this gap but with more than 75% of operating expenses in salaries and benefits, we will need to reduce labor costs.”

That means that some current staff and/or faculty may lose their jobs, including work study and other student held positions. Sounds like these changes have great potential for affecting students in various ways.

When I asked President Truitt how students might be directly affected by the actions taken to address budget issues, she assured there would be none – zero ways in which students might be directly affected. “Students are our top priority.” But we already know for sure that the athletic programs are merging, and if there is a reduction in course offerings or the possibility that some student workers could lose their jobs, all of those things directly affect the students.

It’s nice to hear that “students are a top priority,” but reality needs to come into play at some point. If the State of Illinois doesn’t find a way soon to come up with a workable budget, changes will be coming to Black Hawk College. Information detailed here only covers “phase 1” that has been openly discussed. Phase 2 of potential changes is still a mystery.

If you have concerns about potential impacts of the budget shortfall, talk to your Student Life Representatives. They keep regular hours in their office next to the Hawk’s Nest in Building 4. It is their job to address student issues on campus. Issues can also be discussed during Student Life Council meetings held every two weeks. Take an active interest and participate in what goes on at Black Hawk College.

YOU ARE Black Hawk College!