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Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposal cuts funding to public universities

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | 11:29 p.m. CST; updated 1:22 p.m. CST, Friday, January 20, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — Public universities would bear the brunt of Missouri's budget shortfall under Gov. Jay Nixon's 2013 budget proposal presented Tuesday during his State of the State address.

The Democratic governor's budget would cut all public universities' funding by about 13 percent for a total decrease of $106 million from last year's budget. It would be the largest percentage cut to Missouri's public universities in the past two decades. Missouri Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called the cuts "unacceptable."

A member of the House Budget Committee Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was concerned about the universities. Lampe said she did not know how the colleges would be able to survive such a cut without raising tuition.

In the hourlong State of the State speech, Nixon made only one brief reference to the higher education cuts.

"I am calling on our colleges and universities to continue to look for more ways to cut overhead administrative costs and run smarter, more efficient operations," Nixon said. "And while leaner, more efficient operations are essential, higher education must continue to adapt to the modern economy."

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said this year's budget was a "challenge" but that the governor was able to present a balanced budget without raising taxes. 

The governor's plan reflects a $500 million deficit caused by the use of federal stimulus dollars in previous budgets and a larger Medicaid bill caused by the federal government cutting back by 1 percentage point the share it contributes to cover Medicaidrates. In addition, the federal government has prohibited states from cutting back their coverage of Medicaid, which provides health care coverage for the lower income and is one of the state's larger budget items. The end of federal economic recovery funds and Medicaid changes have created budget problems for states across the country; some states face budget shortfalls far deeper than Missouri.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, disputed the claim that Nixon's budget was balanced, saying it relied on programs the General Assembly has not yet approved. Specifically, Nixon's budget includes $52 million in savings from a tax amnesty program that has failed to pass the legislature twice.

"I am concerned when the governor takes speculative measures to balance the budget," Schaefer said."I support it, but it certainly did not pass."

In addition to cuts in higher education funding, Nixon's budget makes $192 million in cuts to certain Medicaid services and eliminates 816 state employee positions. Luebbering said most of the eliminated positions will be handled through retirements and leaving positions vacant, but some employees will be laid off. Nixon has removed more than 4,000 state positions since taking office in 2009.

The governor's budget did have some good news for state employees in the form of a
2 percent pay raise starting January 1, 2013. However, by starting in January, the raise does not factor into the first six months of the state's fiscal year.

Nixon was able to find money to increase funds for elementary and secondary education by $5 million. Despite Nixon's slight raise in funding to school districts, the funding would still be almost $500 million below what the school funding formula requires for a fully funded system.

"Some states have opted to balance their budget on the backs of schoolchildren," Nixon said. "But I have not met one parent or one teacher in Missouri who thinks we should balance our budget by taking money from their kid's classroom."

House Budget Chair Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, questioned Nixon's funding commitment to local districts.  

"I think it's a weird move. I guess obviously it highlights that it is an election year," Silvey said. "You are going to add $5 million to $3 billion and then crow about how it is the largest education budget in state history? I think it comes out to $5 per pupil."

The General Assembly will now work on the budget and could make changes to the governor's proposals. The budget must be sent to the governor's desk for final approval by May 11.

Jordan Shapiro is a reporter for Missouri Digital News.


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