Phillips calls EIU union official’s criticism 'politically driven'
State Rep. Reginald “Reggie” Phillips (R-Dist.110) dismissed a comment made by an Eastern Illinois University (EIU) professor and union president criticizing his lack of support for the university as “a bunch of crap.”
Jonathan Blitz, chemistry professor and president of the University Professionals of Illinois chapter at Eastern, told WCIA3 that he and others at EIU have been trying to get Phillips to support the university, which is sinking fast in financial quicksand, “but he doesn’t vote that way.”
Phillips, who said at an Eastern Faculty Senate meeting last month that he was confident he and other lawmakers could get EIU close to 60 percent of $40 million for the 2015 appropriation, ripped into Blitz, characterizing his criticism as nothing short of a politically driven statement.
“This guy is a professor of chemistry which means he has an education; he has a doctorate,” Phillips told the East Central Reporter. “His intelligence quotient is off the charts from a standard person like me. I am just an average ‘Joe Blow’ business guy, right. Yet, he doesn’t do his homework. He knows the bills I voted for. The first 2016 budget, which was $4 billion bloated, no funding for (EIU), I voted no. The 2017 budget was $7 billion, no funding for it, no mechanisms, even in the Democratic Party the senators and others know it is all gimmicks.”
The Illinois Board of Higher Education reported that Eastern Illinois University has 816 employees who earned a collective $52.94 million in 2015, 17 percent of which ($9.05 million) went to administrative staff, or non-teachers.
In 2015, 154 EIU staff members earned more than $100,000, including Blitz who earned $102,299, according to the higher education board.
EIU has 8,045 students and 707 instructors, an 11 to 1 ratio.
Phillips also noted that he showed his support for EIU by “putting my neck out on the line” by voting for a $3.7 billion funding plan for higher education and social services that lacked a funding mechanism.
“I got myself in some hot water over that, not just with the governor and the governor’s staff and the rest of the Republicans, who thought I put them in harm’s way,” he said.
Phillips felt compelled to vote for the plan because he believed it was the right thing to do, and he had made a promise to vote for any proposal that would fund higher education without a funding mechanism as long as it would have a funding mechanism attached to it before it came back for a veto vote. He was adamant, he said, that he would not override a veto in the House unless there was a funding mechanism in place (i.e., new taxes designated simply for higher education and education).
“I gave them all sorts of ways to make that thing work and here (Blitz) comes out with his rhetoric," Phillips said. "What a bunch of crap; that is what it is. This is the political agenda of the left,” Phillips said. “No one is fighting harder for EIU. The president, if he were willing to come out and say so, but no one is going to come out and say so because nobody wants to put their jobs on the line or their political positions on the line. I will.”
Phillips added that he is less concerned with being re-elected than he is in doing what is right not just for his district, but Illinois as a whole.
When Blitz and Phillips met in person, Phillips said he emphasized that “nobody is more pro-EIU” than he is.
“I was chief co-sponsor on two bills with two Democrats, for crying out loud, for funding for higher education," Phillips said. In both of those instances, I had funding for EIU. In the second one I had 100 percent funding for EIU, like $40 million, and the Democratic caucus killed the bill. That was actually after I negotiated down to 31 percent, for crying out loud. In the original bill (Rep. Rita Mayfield) and I put together, which I was chief co-sponsor on, we had $40 million. We got butchered.”
EIU has nearly twice as many active pensioners as active employees. According to the higher education board, 1,532 EIU pensioners collected $57.51 million in 2015; 158 collected more than $80,000. Their average retirement age is 60, through 343 EIU retirees did so when they were 55 or younger.
Interestingly, Phillips is facing Democratic challenger Dennis Malak, who is an EIU employee. Malak only recently got onto the ballot on June 1 for his second attempt at representing District 110. Malak is the auditorium technical director at the Doudna Fine Arts Center at EIU.
Malak’s decision to join the race leads Phillips to believe that any claim by university employees that he is not supporting EIU is politically motivated.
“For them to continue that rhetoric just shows you it is nothing but a political gesture with the idea that this guy running against me may be able to take the Democrats and the independents, and overcome me," Phillips said. "When he gets to the floor what do you think he is going to do?”
Should Malak win the general election in November and join Democrats in Springfield, Phillips said House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Dist. 22) will have one more vote in the bag.
“If (Malak) gets in on the Democratic Party, what do you think he is going to do?" Phillips asked. "The first vote he is going to take he is going to put Madigan where? Back to the speaker,” he said. “If (voters) want a real fighter, they better stick with the guy they have. If they don’t, then so be it.”
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