State funding gap could threaten Truman construction

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • February 11, 2009 @ 1:30 PM

The state’s mounting $9 billion budget shortfall is trickling down to construction at Chicago's Truman College, threatening to delay the campus’ new student center and parking garage.

The state pledged about $15 million toward the project’s $55 million price tag and has already paid about $5 million, says Diane Minor, the assistant vice chancellor for administrative services at the City Colleges of Chicago.

“They’ve assured us that we are still queued up in the state’s cash reserves and the project is still going forward,” Minor said at the Feb. 5 Board of Trustees meeting.

Ed Smith, a senior director at the Illinois Community College Board, says that while the state has committed to funding a variety of capital projects, it doesn’t have a long-term strategy to actually make those payments. The looming budget gap is only worsening the problem.

Due to incorrect information from a Capital Development Board official, the Daily News reported incorrectly Tuesday that funding for the project was secure. It apparently is not.

 “What happens is that they’ve got these appropriations that have been made, but there’s not adequate cash in the checking account, so to speak, to pay for those,” Ed Smith said Tuesday.

But with construction underway on the Truman project, bills from contractors are coming due and the state doesn’t have money to pay for them.

“From my understanding, the bills have been on time. They’re not late,” says Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the Capital Development Board, the state agency that coordinates construction projects.

But the state probably won’t be able to pay those bills, so the City Colleges are being asked to front $500,000 in the coming weeks to cover the costs, Minor says.

 “Because they have no cash in their reserves, they are asking us to come out of our reserves and fund the project immediately,” Minor said at last week’s meeting.

Whether the funding problems will delay construction at Truman is unclear. College spokesman Clifton Daniel said Tuesday he was unaware of impending delays.

At the meeting last week, Minor said the district would only put up the $500,000 after it signs an agreement with the state that clarifies funding for the rest of the project. That agreement is still being drafted and likely won’t be approved until early March.

The state comptroller’s office actually cuts the checks for contractors on projects such as the construction at Truman. Spokeswoman Carol Knowles says it’s unlikely the state will be able to make payments for now because the two funds that would be most likely to pay the Truman bills are depleted.

“Both funds as I looked at them this morning didn’t have much money in them,” Knowles says.

To fix the problem, the state needs to sell construction bonds to investors, says Ed Smith at the community college board. It is up to the governor’s office to sell those bonds.

An official in the governor’s budget office could not immediately say whether a bond sale is scheduled that would cover the state’s expenses on the Truman project.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education.