Senate passes 2009 higher education budget

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 | 9:14 p.m. CDT; updated 2:50 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate passed next year’s higher education budget Wednesday, which would give the UM System a 4.8 percent increase.

Though $200 million has been cut by both legislative bodies from Gov. Matt Blunt’s original recommendations across the entire budget, higher education is still slated to receive a 7.8 percent increase in funding. As for the UM System, the Senate voted to give it $451.7 million for fiscal year 2009, an increase of almost $21 million over 2008.

But Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said this budget marked a defeat for the UM System.

“It’s a wash,” he said. “We’re still not back up to the 2001 spending levels. Instead, that money is going to scholarship programs for private colleges and universities.”

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the increases in higher education funding are sufficient and that Missouri has money to spend this year despite the credit crunch.

“We haven’t had increases like this in the six years since I’ve been here,” Nodler said. “Missouri’s economy responded with additional economic activity and more revenue.”

But Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said the Senate was forced to cut some additions and changes to the budget made by the governor and the Missouri House.

“This was built on some leftover money from previous years,” Bray said. “The increases we do give have to be sustained in future years.”

Last month, the House cut almost $10 million from the governor’s recommendations for the UM System, reducing the proposed budget for the system to $448.5 million. Most of the loss came from the removal of funding for the Preparing to Care program, which was meant to expand the number of graduates in health care fields. The UM System would have received $8.2 million for the program.

The Senate added $2.44 million back to the House’s budget plan for equity adjustments at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which Nodler said receives less funding than its partner schools. The legislature will send a letter of intent to the Board of Curators with recommendations for how the money is to be spent, but such a letter is not binding.

The higher education budget received slightly more than an hour of floor debate.

“I’d say it was less acrimonious, but the amount (of debate) was pretty average,” Nodler said.

The budget will make its way to a 10-member conference committee of House and Senate members to negotiate the differences between each chamber’s plans.

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