On April 7, the first day of the board's two-day meeting, trustees heard both bad news and hopeful news concerning the condition of the State Universities Retirement System, which provides retirement benefits for the faculty and staff of all state universities and community colleges in Illinois. The bad news is that the system, and therefore the UI, is "at the bottom of the barrel" in state-appropriated funding for retirement relative to programs at other Big Ten institutions, said Craig S. Bazzani, UI vice president for business and finance. The overall state system - including SURS and four other systems covering different groups of state employees - is "one of the dirty dozen" in underfunding among state pension systems in the United States, said Dennis D. Spice, SURS executive director. For SURS, "at the rate we're going, we'll be bankrupt by the year 2020," Spice said. The system has not been adequately funded since its inception more than 50 years ago, Spice said. The real problems, however, began about a decade ago when the state government reduced its contribution to far below even the requirements for people already retired, he said. What was supposed to be a one-year cut became a decade-long practice, aided by state budget crises. The hopeful news is that two bills have been introduced in Springfield, one by the governor and one in the House of Representatives, that would phase in the money needed to eliminate a growing unfunded liability. "Both plans will work," Spice told trustees, but "one of these plans must be enacted this year." Dealing with the issue cannot wait even two more years, much less five or 10, he said. "We're slowly taking our principal to pay benefits." "I think there really is a serious intention [by the governor and others] to do something about this," Bazzani said after the April 7 meeting. Though even a plan that would phase in money over many years would be an improvement, the best plan would be one that rectifies the underfunding sooner rather than later, Bazzani said. "The more they can do, the faster they can do it, the better off we are," he said. If the underfunding continues or additional funding is phased in over a long period, the danger for the UI and its employees is that the money needed to fix the problem will be drained from future salary increases.