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UM budget cuts concern legislators, universities

Thursday, January 20, 2011 | 9:22 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed 7 percent cut in higher education appropriations for fiscal year 2012 would force the University of Missouri System to find ways to meet a $29.8 million budget cut.

The university system met Nixon’s proposal with a mixed reaction Thursday, applauding his declared commitment to education but expressing concern about the long-term ramifications of his proposal.

In a statement released Thursday morning, the UM System praised the governor’s effort to limit the impact of cuts to colleges and universities but noted that the reductions would challenge the system's ability to provide a quality education.

A $29.8 million drop in state support on top of mandatory increases in expenses next year will leave a budget funding gap for UM of nearly $72 million, according to the statement.

“As the state's sole land-grant, research university, the University of Missouri System has an obligation to provide Missouri students with a top-quality education,” the release stated.

UM curators meet next week to set tuition increases on the four campuses as one effort to help close the gap.

State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, objected Thursday to a continued pattern of higher education cuts.

He said he wants the trend to be reversed — a 7 percent increase in state appropriations rather than a decrease.

Kelly likened the cut to getting punched in the face and only getting a black eye instead of getting two teeth knocked out.

"I'm happy that I didn't get my teeth knocked out, but I'm not too crazy about my black eye," he said.

If the cut is imposed, the quality of education in our institutions will drop, he said.

“The governor puts a bright face on it, but over time, these cuts will have a negative effect,” Kelly said.

Finding state funds for higher education in other areas of the budget will be difficult, he said.

Although appropriations for elementary and secondary education make up a large part of the budget, along with health care and corrections, cutting those areas is not easy.

“The problem is you can’t close prisons,” Kelly said. "And if you can't close them, you have to staff them."

He offered a higher cigarette tax as one solution. Missouri’s state tax rate on cigarettes ranks last in the nation, according to a report published in 2010 by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“It’s not something to be proud of,” Kelly said.

The chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education had a different perspective on Nixon's proposal.

“Any cut we would like to avoid,” said state Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville. But he said university administrators expected a cut between 12 percent to 15 percent.

Nixon’s proposal may be a sigh of relief to those who expected a bigger number. But as Thomson noted, it is still "early in this process."


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