Nixon proposes additional $74.3 million in budget cuts

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 8:33 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 3, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Less than two weeks after announcing almost $200 million in cuts to the state budget, Gov. Jay Nixon cut an additional $74.3 million Tuesday.

The budget cuts accompanied the release of the state's Jan. 2010 revenue report. According to the report, Missouri collected 12.5 percent less for the first seven months of the fiscal year than last year.

The administration and legislative leaders previously predicted only a 6.4 percent drop — a figure Linda Luebbering, state budget director, acknowledged now is unlikely.

Luebbering said the magnitude of the tax collection decline came as a surprise.

The resulting budget cuts announced Tuesday will affect several government departments and organizations.

Technology programs are among the hardest hit — $24 million cut from the federal-state rural broadband expansion project, $637,000 from MOREnet and $29 million from a multiyear program to develop a new-generation statewide public safety communications system.

In addition, $2 million would be cut from the Parents as Teachers program.

Higher Education

Earlier in the day, lawmakers discussed Nixon's higher education recommendation constraints for fiscal year 2011. Robert Stein, higher education commissioner, began the meeting with somber statistics.

"As a system, we perform average," Stein said, adding that Missouri higher education ranks No. 31 in the nation.

Stein said a well-funded higher education program is a solution for economic recovery, but the funds just aren't there.

Stein said higher education should focus more on an all-encompassing budget to help all higher education institutions — not just funding for specific institutions.

Nixon and Missouri four-year public schools agreed to freeze tuition as long as the state does not cut state funding more than five percent.

Stein pointed at Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, and said the focus should go beyond institutions in Columbia and near St. Louis.

Schaefer stressed transparency in the budget as vital for getting higher education the needed funds.

"As appropriators on this committee, we need to know the details," Schaefer said.

For example, institutions can raise the tuition on the school's budget books without implementing the increase. If the freeze-in-tuition agreement were to end in the next year, the increased budget would be implemented immediately.

Schaefer said the more transparent way for institutions to obtain funds from the state is to petition with a waiver. He said the increase without implementation is not transparent enough, especially for students.

"My concern is with the aspect of the deal that is not transparent at all," Schaefer said. "If you put tuition increase on the books, most students won't know that. They're not going to know they're setting themselves up for a tuition increase next year. It's a very back door way of hiding a tuition increase."

One program receiving cuts under Nixon's budget recommendations for the next fiscal year is the Bright Flight program, which provides scholarships to high-achieving students. Nixon's recommendation alters the spending from $25 million this year to $16 million in fiscal year 2011.

"We don't have money for the expansion of that program," Deputy Commissioner Paul Wagner said.

Stein said higher education and lawmakers would find solutions only through cooperation.

"I don't know all the answers, but we in higher education need all the help we can get with the budget."

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