Forum addresses potential MU budget shortfall

Friday, November 21, 2008 | 6:13 p.m. CST; updated 7:19 p.m. CST, Friday, November 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — MU administrators are “between a rock and a hard place” in planning the budget for fiscal year 2010, MU Provost Brian Foster said Friday at an open forum for faculty and staff.

About 20 people attended the forum, designed to explain MU’s current budget situation and the challenges the university could face in the next fiscal year.

Of MU's $1.7 billion budget for the current fiscal year, $474 million of it makes up the general operations budget, most of which goes toward faculty and staff salaries.

That portion of the budget comes primarily from two sources: state appropriations and tuition. But MU has little, if any, control over those. Senate Bill 389, passed by the state legislature in 2007, capped tuition increases at the rate of inflation of the Consumer Price Index. And the legislature must balance the needs of higher education with the needs of the rest of the state, which has faced its own economic troubles.

MU Budget Director Tim Rooney said the best estimate of the fiscal year 2010 general operations budget one month ago projected a $700,000 deficit. This projection assumed factors such as a 4.2 percent increase in state appropriations and a 4 percent increase in tuition based on the Consumer Price Index.

But a more recent estimate puts the fiscal year 2010 general operations budget closer to a $13 million deficit, Rooney said, based on no increase in state appropriations and a 2.8 percent increase in tuition.

Foster said it’s important to remember that these numbers are only the best possible guess based on current projections. Administrators will have a better idea of what to expect as the beginning of the fiscal year approaches in July, he said.

But Foster said he hopes to sustain MU’s core mission of being a prominent research university despite the challenging economic times. The best outcome he could hope for, he said, is that the state will find a way to give MU what it asks for in appropriations — a 4.2 percent increase.

Some faculty and staff members at the forum brought up the system-wide hiring freeze, which was announced Monday by University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee. But the subject was largely avoided by Foster, who said administrators are still working on the process and the details of the freeze, and he said it is too early for him to comment on the role it might play in budget planning.

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