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How will Nixon pay for his grand ideas?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | 2:30 p.m. CST; updated 2:41 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kudos to Gov. Jay Nixon for trying to solve the problem of consistent tuition hikes in Missouri universities. Nixon promises to present a balanced budget with no cuts to higher education.

According to the MU "Live Wire" blog, “the governor has proposed keeping fiscal year 2010 appropriations for state universities at 2009 levels if, in exchange, those higher-education institutions agree not to increase tuition.”

Now the General Assembly still has to approve this measure and the state’s budget is in a $261 million shortfall this fiscal year, but this could be a good start to the governor’s term.

In a release from the governor’s office, Nixon said, “To turn this economy around, we must ensure that Missouri’s workforce is trained and prepared for the jobs of the future, and Missouri students must have access to an affordable four-year degree.”

The release went on to say that in the past decade, Missouri’s public, four-year institutions have increased tuition an average of 7.5 percent each year. That is astounding. The 1999-2000 school year saw a $4,600 bill for a Missouri resident. By the 2008-2009 year, those same students are paying $8,500. If we were to add in that 7.5 percent average, this upcoming school year would cost more than $9,000. That’s unacceptable with the declines in financial aid and scholarship money throughout the state.

We all know when times get tough, oftentimes the tough go back to school or continue their education. As the job market decreases, educational enrollment increases. What a relief it would be for those headed back to the books that their tuition bill will not increase. With Nixon proposing 1,300 job cuts to state employees, eliminating nearly $200 million to help balance the budget, there might be plenty of people headed back to higher education.

Nixon claims he is looking to the future and learning from the mistakes of those before him. In his State of the State speech on Tuesday, the governor said, “In the past, when the state has faced challenging economic times, higher education has often been the first target for cuts. Not this time.”

But isn’t Nixon saying one thing and doing another? Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder thinks so. He raised a good point in his rebuttal speech on Tuesday evening.

“The governor has cut over $76 million from higher education classrooms in Missouri, Kinder said. "It will be a difficult task for Missouri's colleges and universities to train students for the jobs of tomorrow when they are facing such a tremendous cut.”

KOMU reports that many of the cuts Nixon is proposing for 2010 will come from capitol improvements, such as road and construction projects. These cuts should add up to around $70 million, a small dent in our $261 million shortcoming.

Although Nixon preaches more job training and a new pledge to create more jobs using the Show Me Jobs plan, he is cutting many governmental jobs and programs to create room in the budget. Nixon says this is “…to make government leaner and more efficient. To bring about this needed reduction, my budget eliminates or cuts 50 programs. Many bureaucratic positions will be consolidated or eliminated altogether. Hundreds of additional positions that are currently unoccupied will not be filled.”

While Nixon claims to have implemented “the largest single reduction in the state’s bureaucracy in modern history,” he is still creating an Automotive Jobs Task Force, a Taxpayer Protection Commission and the Economic Stimulus Coordination Council with undisclosed staff sizes.

“We will balance our budget, this year, next year and the year after that,” Nixon said. “We won’t place the burden on the weakest among us. We won’t abandon our priorities or shared principles. And we won’t raise taxes.”

Lt. Gov. Kinder seemed to at least second that note (the only thing the two agreed on) — “Our message is simple: ‘No New Taxes.’”

My question to the governor: Where will all the money come from? Nixon seems to be banking on a stimulus package from President Obama that might never come, relying on $800 million to come out of the deal. Although he seems to make some drastic cuts, these might only see us out of 2009, not keep us afloat in 2010. Even if we get the stimulus, this is a one-time fix that can’t be replicated come the following fiscal years.

I know I’m worrying about the same thing as Kinder.

“What if these dollars don't arrive?" he asked. "What if we don't get nearly as much as expected?”

Although hearing the differences between Kinder and Nixon was depressing, it’s too early to tell how the rest of Missouri government will react to Nixon’s Tuesday evening speech. But with 219,000 Missourians unemployed, 42,000 with homes foreclosed last year and 729,000 lacking health insurance, most of Missouri should be on board for now.

Tracy Barnes graduated from MU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and English. She is a former copy editor and multimedia editor for the Missourian. She can be contacted at tracylbarnes@gmail.com.


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Comments

Ron Masters January 29, 2009 | 8:18 a.m.

Any federal stimlus money for a state universities will come with the condition that the university can not raise tuition. Of course, universities are going to take that money. So, state university officials/lobbyists in Missouri gave up nothing when they agreed with Nixon not to raise tuition. And, they got Nixon to agree to keep funding at current levels.

The Nixon administration and others (including the author of this op-ed) do not seem to know that current state law limits tuition increases at Missouri state universities. (Somehow, I believe university officals are aware of this fact.) So, it is silly to say that Nixon's deal with university officals saved us from a large tuition increase.

Let's face it: Nixon got hoodwinked by university officials. Good for us!!

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