Illinois’s ballooning pension costs coupled with dwindling revenue from professional fees are what’s behind a proposed $1.2 million funding cut for the School of Pharmacy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
In the past, money used to train and regulate the state’s pharmacists came from professional fees that were funneled into the The Pharmacy Fund and General Professions Fund.
Those pools of money, however, are running low and Susan Hofer, a spokesperson for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said the only solution on the horizon is reining in costs associated with the state’s pension system, which is currently $96 billion in debt.
“Once the pension reforms have been passed, there might be enough money in general revenue funds, or in higher education funds, to provide enough money to provide for pharmacy grants and all the other programs the people of Illinois deserve,” Hofer said.
The prospect of cutting off funding for the pharmacy school at SIUE had State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, ringing alarm bells.
In written statement, Haine called the proposed funding cut, “shocking.”
“I understand the need to scale back but sometimes you just have to stop and wonder what the governor is doing,” Haine said in a written statement released on Wednesday.
Like Hofer, this weekend Haine said it all boils down to fixing the state’s pension system.
“It’s just another example of why we need to get these pension problems behind us so we can address these necessary obligations to the state,” Haine said.
Two plans to rope in the pension system are headed to the Senate floor this coming week; another is going to the House floor.
Lawmakers, though, will have to negotiate their way the below section of the state’s constitution. That could be tricky, because with regards to pensions it states that, “the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”
Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.
As for whether or not the funding cuts could shutter the pharmacy school at SIUE, Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Ann Boyle, indicated that’s not likely.
“SIUE has no intention of closing one of the best schools in our array of programs,” Boyle said in a written statement. “We are working to cover the shortfall while seeking replacement funding from the state.”