State Spends $14M on Planning for State Universities’ Construction Projects Now Mothballed

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CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois spent $14 million on planning for state universities' construction projects that have been mothballed, according to a published report.

Money for work slated at Western Illinois University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago has run out, officials told the Chicago Tribune . Even if money became available, plans would have to be updated at additional cost and delays mean increased prices.

The work was supposed to be part of a 2009 multibillion-dollar capital program that included $1.6 billion for higher education.

State officials vowed to borrow money through $16 billion in bond sales. The bonds were to be repaid by new taxes and fees and revenue from such sources as video gambling. But state records show those proceeds were falling far short of expectations. The Legislature's bipartisan fiscal arm, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, reported last spring that the program had ended after selling only $12.7 billion in bonds.

At the same time, private colleges in Illinois got what they were promised from the program. By 2015, they had received $300 million in grants allocated.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has served since 2015, said the Republican considers the five public-university projects expired because no additional funds were allocated by the Legislature.

By the time he took office, much of the higher-education projects had stalled because funding had begun running short. On his first day in office, Rauner issued an executive order that temporarily froze the grants while spending was reviewed.

Western Illinois spent $4 million on planning a $72 million, 130,000-square-foot performing arts center. The delay in further funding has increased the cost by $10 million, according to the university.

The capital program paid for several higher education projects. It provided $60 million for the National Petascale Computer Facility that opened in 2012 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A $52 million science complex opened the following year at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. And the U of I's historic Lincoln Hall was renovated with the help of $60 million from the program.

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