Fact check: Pritzker budget takes from college students, gives to pensions

Fact check: Pritzker budget takes from college students, gives to pensions

Gov. J.B Pritzker has touted his record on higher education funding, even hinting many students should be given free tuition, but pensions are driving up tuition and eating state university funding. Pritzker refuses to tame that beast.

When Gov. J.B Pritzker announced his bid for re-election, one of his campaign promises was free college tuition for families at or below the median income.

But his record on funding Illinois’ universities has continued a 15-year tradition: pensions win, students lose.

Even with increased MAP grant funding in the newest budget, higher education is out of reach for many because tuition prices are driven up by pensions.

Pensions now eat nearly half of the state’s higher education funding, up from just 10% in 2007. Pension spending, adjusted for inflation, went from from $256 million to $2.11 billion, a 510% increase in 15 years, yet the State Universities Retirement Fund has less than half of what it needs to keep its pension promises. It is short $25.4 billion.

And while Pritzker said he wants to give more to students, his upcoming budget takes more from them. His 2023 budget will put 53 cents of every higher education dollar toward pensions, up from 49 cents in 2022.

In his 2021 budget address, Pritzker called pension reform a “fantasy.” The real fantasy is saying there will be free college for kids in the middle on down, yet refusing to fix the pension crisis that drives up tuition and leaves less and less to run state universities.

When adjusted for inflation, public universities in Illinois have smaller operations budgets than they did 15 years ago.

If pensions took up 4% of the budget like they did in the 1990s, public universities would have enough room in the budget to give every undergrad at public universities almost $70,000 for college. Now just a few get state tuition help worth $3,000 on average.

Constitutional pension reform would fully fund SURS and stop any further financial stress on students or cuts in university programs.

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