State funds will allow 3 1/2 percent salary increases for faculty and staff members By Melissa Mitchell Good things sometimes do indeed come to those who wait. At least that's the case for UI faculty and staff members and other state government workers who waited anxiously while the Illinois General Assembly went into an overtime session in Springfield before reaching a state budget agreement for FY 1995. When the deals were done and the compromises reached, one of the clear winners was higher education. For the first time in several years, legislators approved a plan to increase funding for higher education that not only met, but surpassed, the original recommendation made by the Illinois Board of Higher Education and endorsed by Gov. Jim Edgar. Of the $2.4 billion earmarked by the General Assembly for higher education, $745 million was appropriated to the UI according to Stephen Rugg, UI vice president for planning and budgeting. Rugg said the Urbana campus' share of the total appropriation is about $350 million, which represents an increment of $15.2 million over last year's operating budget. "We had a good budget year," Rugg said, noting that "for the first time in several years, [the state appropriation] provided a good salary program with some additional internal actions which both campuses have been planning on but have not been able to do since the tax increase in FY 1990." Rugg said he isn't sure if this year's emphasis on education was indicative of a permanent shift in priorities among members of the General Assembly. But, he said: "We can be encouraged that when, in the final days, the global allocations were considered, education was a priority, and when it came to the fine-tuning, funding for higher education was addressed. We also ought to be encouraged that the rank-and-file legislators and legislative leaders were interested in higher education." As a result of this year's budget boost, Rugg said funds will be available for a significant salary increase this year for UI employees. "We're looking at a salary increment of 3 1/2 percent funded by the state, and as units look at prospects for adding to that for merit, market and equity, salary increases may be higher," he said. Rugg added that this year's state appropriation to the UI will result in the first major increase at or above the inflationary level since the FY 90 tax-increase year." This year's budget also will "enable us for the first time in a while to pay some major attention to academic program areas," such as undergraduate education and the freshman-year Discovery program, and "will allow every effort to respond to student demands." For example, he said, "we'll get back some sections we may have lost and will be able to address the problem of exceedingly large courses." Walt Tousey, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the removal of the differential tuition structure this year will yield increased funds that will be directed at three major areas. "The new funds will be used for undergraduate education and to increase the contact between students and faculty members and graduate students. Another supplemental allocation, based on increased enrollment, will go mostly to programs in Commerce and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences." Tousey added that the Urbana campus's FY 95 budget includes $700,000 for operation and maintenance expenses in new areas. Of that, about $520,000 was added by the state, with the remainder realized through internal reallocation. Some of the funding for a major $2 million-per-year classroom remodeling program - which involves adding new instructional and technical equipment - will come from that budget, Tousey said.