JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday that he will not tap university reserves to help balance Missouri's budget, scrapping the idea just a few weeks after its debut generated a generally negative reaction.
Nixon's administration had floated an idea that would have taken $106 million from the reserves of five of Missouri's largest universities to help fund the higher education operating budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The reserves would have been replenished over several years with money from Missouri' student loan agency.
Asked Thursday about the idea, Nixon responded: "That is off the table."
The idea had not gone over well with some university officials and state lawmakers, whose approval would have been needed.
On Wednesday, for example, House Speaker Steven Tilley had vowed that lawmakers "will not balance our budget by asking our state colleges and universities for a bailout."
Nixon said Thursday that he would continue to look for ways to put as many dollars as possible into the classrooms at K-12 public schools, colleges and universities — directing cuts toward the administration, as much as possible.
The governor's office has always stressed that the potential to borrow from university reserves to finance the state's budget was only an idea, not a firm plan or proposal. One thing that made the idea potentially attractive was the ability to redirect money from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority to finance classroom education in the immediate future instead of using agency funds for longer-term campus construction projects, as state law now requires, Nixon said.
Nixon's budget director has said the state could face a roughly $500 million gap between projected expenses and revenues for the 2013 fiscal year that starts July 1. That gap was the impetus for considering alternative ways of financing higher education.
"We wanted to look at an opportunity with the immediate budget challenge we had this year," Nixon said. "That was one method that was looked it. It didn't pan out."