Missouri House Education Committee likely to preserve tuition deal

Thursday, February 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:10 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — A tuition deal reached by Gov. Jay Nixon and state colleges and universities has cleared its first hurdle, said the House Education Appropriation's Committee Chair.

After two days of presentations by Missouri's colleges, committee chairman Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, said he is likely to recommend upholding the tuition plan announced in November.

Under the plan, Missouri's colleges agreed to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition in exchange for preserving 95 percent of the current higher education appropriation, pending approval by the legislature.

Thomson said the recommendation would be finalized by the committee Thursday and passed on to the House Budget Committee. If approved, it would  need to pass the House and Senate before going to Nixon for approval.

Last week, House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, instructed the chairs of the House's six appropriations committees to cut 5 percent from the budgets they oversee. Icet indicated that the tuition deal would likely be upheld.

The six committees are:

  • Agriculture and Natural Resources
  •  Education
  • General Administration
  • Health, Mental Health and Social Services
  • Public Safety and Corrections
  •  Transportation and Economic Development

"We're trying to spread the pain, so to speak, as much as possible," Icet said.

Thomson said that the deal with Nixon would satisfy Icet's requested cut for higher education.

Icet said he instructed Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County, and a member of both the budget and education appropriations committees, to ask college officials what they've done to prepare for fiscal year 2012, when roughly $1 billion in federal stabilization funds in next year's budget expires.

"If the answer is 'We've done nothing,' then they've done a bad job," Icet said.

Stream said he was impressed by the responses he received from college officials. He recommended that the Department of Higher Education collect them to share with Missouri's colleges.

On Tuesday, Nikki Krawitz, MU vice president for finance and administration, presented the committee with the various measures the University of Missouri System has taken, which resulted in more than $250 million in savings. Savings include salary and hiring freezes, reduced operating costs and mandating employee contributions to pension plans.

When the tuition deal was announced, UM President Gary Forsee charged system campuses with reducing their operating costs by 5 percent, a process which he initially said would be completed by late January. Krawitz told the committee Tuesday that these reductions have not yet been formalized.

Icet, who will be term-limited out of the House this year, said the cuts are an attempt to mitigate the damage two years from now.

"Next year if nothing happens, there will be entire programs that are zeroed out," he said.

In a January letter to the state's colleges, Missouri's top higher education official presented eliminating programs and shutting down campuses as possible repercussions of the budget hole in fiscal year 2012.

Stream said that universities may have to eliminate programs in two years but that closing campuses would be unlikely.

"That would be very, very, very extreme," he said.

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