Coming soon to a service club near you: Tim Rooney and more than you ever wanted to know about our university’s budget.
Along with about 20 other faculty members, I got to see a kind of preview earlier this week. It was even more depressing than last year’s version.
Tim is MU’s budget director. Working for Provost Brian Foster, he has the unenviable job of trying to balance revenue and expenditures when the latter keep growing and the former is increasingly inadequate. I’ve attended several of his show-and-tell sessions now, and the news is never good.
Actually, he told me when I called him Thursday, off-campus groups won’t get everything we saw. They’ll get a shorter version that explains the components of the budget and emphasizes the university’s impact on Columbia. They won’t get to play with the budget scorecard, an interactive program that allowed us to follow along as he demonstrated a variety of ways to cope with the latest bloodletting proposed by the governor.
In case you’re not a Rotarian, here are some of the basics:
MU is a $2 billion business. Most of it is provided (and spent) by the auxiliary enterprises. The hospital and its physicians make up about three quarters of that. Other enterprises include the athletics department, the bookstore, KOMU and a few other self-sustaining operations.
The general operating budget, the part that pays faculty and staff, amounts to about $510 million. Tuition and fees now contribute 60 percent of that. Only a third comes from the legislature and governor. As we’ve heard, Gov. Nixon recommends for next year a 15 percent cut for higher education. The hit for UM's flagship campus would be $21 million.
And how important to Columbia is the flagship, you ask? Well, if we were all paid weekly, the payroll would be $16 million. Over the past 10 years, the campus has averaged spending $138 million on construction and renovation. Projects valued at $450 million are under way now. Without the university, Columbia would be Hallsville.
State support peaked in 2001. Since then, the state appropriation has decreased 15 percent. That has happened while MU’s enrollment has grown by 45 percent (from about 23,000 to about 33,000). The Consumer Price Index has inflated by 30 percent.
These days, Missouri ranks 44th among the states in state support per capita. All our neighboring states do better. Arkansas, for example, contributes twice as much per capita. When you divide our state appropriation by the number of Missourians, you get $161.82. That’s the lowest in the Big 12. It will be the lowest in the SEC.
The only states that do worse are Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Vermont, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Wyoming is the most generous state. The top 10 include Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Nebraska.
Looking ahead, the picture gets no brighter.
One thing we probably won’t see is the 3 percent salary increase that has been discussed. Tim’s scorecard shows why. When he plugs that raise into the program, it responds that a 13 percent increase in tuition would be needed to balance the budget.
Even without the raise, closing the gap would require tuition to go up 8.5 percent.
Neither of those hypotheticals is likely. The budget builders remember what happened last year, when the university raised tuition above the inflation rate and the governor responded by cutting the appropriation further.
So the scorecard shows that with no raises and a 3 percent tuition increase to match the inflation rate, there’s a $12.6 million chasm between income and outgo. Bridging that gap will be painful.
As Tim said at Tuesday’s session, "We've already plucked the low-hanging fruit."
He likes an analogy between the university and a tree. The roots are nourished by the state and tuition. The trunk is the core missions, with benefits to all the stakeholders as the branches and foliage.
We can only hope the noise coming from Jefferson City isn’t a chainsaw.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.