Missouri lawmaker proposes trimming Nixon's UM System budget

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | 8:01 p.m. CST; updated 9:53 a.m. CST, Wednesday, March 4, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY – The House budget chairman Tuesday recommended slashing $18 million in funding for the University of Missouri System from Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposal by targeting the Caring for Missourians initiative. 

The governor has sought funding for the initiative in an effort to expand health care education and increase the number of health care professionals in rural areas.

After eliminating the $18 million, the House Budget Committee chair submitted a $452 million proposal – about the same amount appropriated for the current fiscal year.

The governor has proposed a figure of $470 million in state funds for the general education budget allocated to the university system for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, justified his proposal by saying it would be unfair to current programs if new programs were funded.

"I took a hard line on new" programs, the committee chair said. "Here we are creating a new program when existing programs are getting cut."

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, said Icet should have left Nixon's budget alone.

"Gov. Nixon's budget is much more responsive to the needs to meet rural health care," he said.

"The University of Missouri, besides being an educational institution, is the health care provider of last resort to 85 counties ... Gov. Nixon appropriately perceives that and funded Caring for Missouri in his budget. This budget does not. That's a problem."

Kelly also criticized Icet's proposal for replacing $49.7 million of the university's state appropriation with federal stimulus funds.  The Columbia Democrat questioned Icet's plans for the state money replaced by stimulus funds.

"That strikes me as if the money actually went to a little magic box in your office," Kelly said to Icet at a Budget Committee meeting Tuesday.

Icet said the state funds should be saved for the future.

"I guess you could actually show a line item that says, 'Here's the House's honey pot. Go for it,'" he said. "But I don't think that's the best way to appropriate funds."

Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palmyra, said it was unfair to the people of Missouri to replace state money with federal stimulus money.

"Instead of taking this opportunity to use these federal dollars to provide services and help to Missouri, we've simply done another fund switch," she said.

Nixon's original proposal, presented in January, would have rolled an estimated $800 million of federal stimulus funds into the state's general revenue pot without indicating how the money was to be spent. 

The governor subsequently created separate accounts for the federal funds after legislators insisted the budget show how the money is to be used.

Icet has argued that kind of notation is necessary to help make budget decisions in a couple of years when federal stimulus payments end. 

On Tuesday, the House Budget Committee began working on the state's multibillion dollar budget. 

The legislature traditionally has appropriated one single lump sum to the UM System Board of Curators to spend on the general educational activities of the system.  It is left up to the curators to decide how to divide the pie among the campuses. 

In January, the governor proposed that the university slash state funding for extension programs by half in order to finance the new health care program.  He later amended that recommendation by finding $10 million to cover the bulk of the extension budget for the next fiscal year.


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