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Cut could jeopardize Missouri university in-state tuition freeze

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 | 9:15 p.m. CDT; updated 10:40 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 30, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — The in-state tuition freeze deal struck between Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri higher education institutions would be undermined under a budget cut tentatively approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

The committee voted to recommend a $15 million cut to the 2011 fiscal year higher education budget on top of Nixon's $50 million cut.

Late last year, Nixon announced an agreement that if only 5.2 percent were cut in state funds for the universities' budgets, they would not raise tuition for Missouri resident students.

"The reason why we discussed it is because we're trying to come up with $500 million (to cut)," said Committee Chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, referring to the deficit in Nixon's proposed budget. Nixon has not presented a revised spending plan, leaving to the legislature to figure out where to make the cuts.

Mayer sponsored the amendment.

Last month, the House approved a $200 million trim from Nixon's overall budget. The remaining $300 million would come from federal money that remains tied up in Congress. The House Budget Committee chairman has expressedconfidence Congress will approve that bill.

Mayer said the potential $300 million extra should be saved for the 2012 fiscal year budget  — a year Mayer said he believes will be worse than 2011.

Mayer didn't specify how much money would be cut from each institution.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he does not support the proposed $15 million cut from higher education.

"I vehemently objected," said Schaefer, the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "I think we should continue with the governor's cut."

Schaefer said he was sure the in-state tuition freeze agreement would fail if the $15 million were to pass in a final version of the budget.

The committee has not taken any final actions on the budget. Mayer said he did not expect a final vote until next week.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the governor, said he believes Nixon's agreement will stay intact once the budgets go to a House-Senate conference committee.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia and the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said the Senate committee's $15 million cut could be a bargaining tool for senators to use during the conference to get more of their ideas and demands into the budget.

Kelly also said the proposed $15 million cut should be spread among elementary, secondary and higher education.

Mayer said he understands the importance of higher education, but added that the budget must take priority.

"Having had three sons who recently graduated, I understand the impact tuition has on a family's budget," Mayer said, "Higher education of course is important, and we hate to make this cut."'

The Senate committee has scheduled sessions every day through Friday of this week to continue work on the state's budget.


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