January 3, 2013 -- Federal and state legislative update
Happy New Year, and welcome back from the holiday break. I look forward to the usual activity and energy across our three campuses this semester, capped off by spring commencement.
I want to briefly update you on a few important developments in Washington and Springfield recently, and to inform you that I will be in both capitals within the next week to advocate on behalf of the University of Illinois.
As you probably know, the President and Congress earlier this week agreed upon a bipartisan plan to avert the so-called 'fiscal cliff' with a federal revenue package built primarily on adjustments to tax rates and tax credits. The deal includes many elements and a good summary can be found at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/01/02/fiscal-cliff-deal-averts-across-board-spending-cuts.
A few noteworthy provisions for those of us in higher education include a five-year extension of the tax credit that helps families pay the cost of college; a year-long reprieve from a proposed reduction in Medicare reimbursements, which is important to our hospital and health services system; and a nine-month extension of the Farm Bill.
Important work left unresolved, however, is sequestration -- mandatory, across-the-board spending reductions -- imposed by the federal Budget Control Act of 2011. The U of I still stands to lose up to $65 million in federal funding next year alone with the proposed reductions, cuts that would harm our research enterprise, student aid and health care system. The sequestration work was put off for two months for the new Congress and the President to address.
I will be in Washington beginning this Thursday to meet with new and continuing members of the Illinois congressional delegation, as well as other federal officials, to strongly urge them to avoid the indiscriminate cuts in the sequester so that we may continue to make wise investments in education and scientific research that will help grow our state and national economies.
Beginning next Wednesday, I will be in Springfield for the inauguration of the new General Assembly, where lawmakers this year will deliberate matters such as our appropriation and public pension funding. In late December I issued a statement (http://www.uillinois.edu/president/speeches/2012/Dec27.Pensions.cfm) about possible pension funding legislation that could be considered in the lame-duck session of the 97th General Assembly early this month. The statement provides a brief summary of new House Bill 6258 that was proposed earlier in December.
The U of I continues to provide legislators and their staff with analyses on the impact to public universities and the state of pension funding proposals as they arise, and we continue to work closely with our colleagues at other public universities and colleges on this important matter.
To reiterate the closing assertion of my statement: Our desire is that the various conversations underway in Springfield result in a pension program for SURS that is sustainable, competitive with programs offered by our peers, and which honors the commitments that have been made to our current employees and retirees. We have and will continue to advocate this position in all our discussions and bring any new developments to your attention.