JEFFERSON CITY – The University of Missouri System president told Missouri lawmakers he was as surprised as anyone when Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon proposed to slash MU Extension's state funds in half for the 2010 fiscal year.
UM System President Gary Forsee said he viewed the extension program as part of the system's budget when an agreement with Nixon was reached in January. That agreement would keep state funding for higher education at the same level as the current fiscal year in exchange for tuition remaining constant.
Forsee recommended keeping the extension program's state funding at its current rate during a hearing with the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.
"Extension is viewed as a core part of what we do," he said. "As we think about our budget and the tough allocations, we certainly look at the total of that budget."
According to Forsee, Nixon never discussed specific line items with him or with MU Chancellor Brady Deaton.
Nixon press secretary Scott Holste said the agreement with state universities only included funding for core purposes.
"Certainly there was some tough choices that had to be made with some of the reductions," he said. "The cut to the extension program was the last one that was made as the governor was putting his fiscal year 2010 budget together."
MU Extension offers programs such as 4-H Youth Development and education opportunities.
Earlier this month Nixon restored $9.3 million to his original budget recommendations for the extension program. The governor had initially recommended a $14.6 million cut. His office said a $10 million budget surplus had been found from construction on a women's prison in Chillicothe.
Also in Tuesday's committee hearing, Forsee articulated a need for a long-term capital funding program because the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority assets did not provide promised funding for MU's Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.
In January, Nixon's Office of Administration announced that it would suspend funding for a range of capital improvements affecting public universities, noting insufficient capital within the loan authority.
"(The) Lewis and Clark (Discovery Initiative) got us started," Forsee said. "But we need something to backfill that, because we have needs on our campus — and needs around the state for that matter — that a sustainable capital mechanism would help us fill."
Forsee said one possible source for funding delayed construction projects was federal stimulus money, which cannot be relied upon year after year.
State Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Maryville, who chairs the House committee on education appropriations, said it was a "possibility" to meet Nixon's proposed higher education funding because of federal stimulus funds. Although he said he does not want to fund projects with federal money that cannot be sustained once the federal money dries up.
"If we put one-time money into an ongoing budget, it simply magnifies the problem later," Thompson said. "So this is somewhat of a reprieve, so we can shift some things around and hopefully use it to our advantage."