Governor calls for elimination of perks, places limits on travel, expenses
CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said Thursday that his commitment to bring about much-needed reform to state government extends to another set of public institutions: the state’s public universities.
“A new way of doing business-- one that is governed by greater accountability, more scrutiny and responsible spending-- is just as necessary within higher education, as it is within high levels of government,” he said.
Speaking at a news conference at the Walter Payton School in Chicago, Blagojevich criticized a system marked by increases in tuition rates and administrative costs, coupled with cuts in assistance to students.
He also cited several examples of “wasteful spending” that showed “an utter lack of accountability,” such as individual restaurant bills that could cover a student’s full room and board for a semester and a trustee’s chartered flight from Chicago to Urbana that could pay a full year’s tuition at the University of Illinois.
Blagojevich announced the following steps Thursday:
First, Blagojevich is directing the Illinois State Board of Higher Education to deliver within 30 days a strategic plan to reduce administrative costs at the state’s nine public universities.
Given the increases in administrative staffing and pay, he said that savings could be made immediately—without impacting the quality of students’ education.
He said that his Bureau of the Budget would work with the board to develop the report.
Second, he is calling for a separate plan from the board that focuses on additional savings that can be achieved through new creative, business-like approaches-- such as joint purchasing power and cooperative ventures among the schools.
Blagojevich is also demanding a change in the way budgets have been presented. “I want detailed, itemized state university budgets,” he said, replacing the lump-sum budgets currently used.
He said that he supported legislation drafted by State Representatives Rica Slone and Kevin Joyce, and Senators Miguel del Valle and Jeff Schoenberg, that would achieve the change.
“Changing the way budgets are approved is part of a larger effort to bring more accountability to the system,” he said.
Blagojevich is asking for an end to the distribution of free tickets to lawmakers, and to the governor and his staff, for university football games and other sporting events.
“If we want to see the game— we can pay for our tickets,” he said.
He also called for the elimination of the current legislative scholarship program. “In their place, let’s create scholarships based on need and merit,” he said.
Blagojevich placed immediate limits placed on travel, meal and entertainment expenses by university officials and faculty.
He is calling for all state university travel, lodging and meal expenses to be brought under the same rules that govern other state employees under the Travel Control Boards. This would require the use of government rates on hotels and flights— and pre-approval for such spending.
He also is calling for an immediate halt to all charter flights by university trustees—an area of high spending frequently cited in the past.
Blagojevich said that he would be visiting—in the weeks ahead—cities around the state, asking parents and students to join in this effort.
He added that these reforms were in the best interests of the universities.
“By taking these steps, by demanding accountability, by finding administrative savings—we will ensure and enhance these schools’ ability to fulfill their core mission: educating our young people,” he said.
“These are exceptional universities,” Blagojevich added.
“With these reforms, I believe, they will be even better.”