Columbia legislators vow to fight Gov. Nixon's education cuts

Thursday, January 26, 2012 | 8:49 p.m. CST; updated 1:18 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 1, 2012

COLUMBIA — Columbia legislators expressed unanimous outrage to the proposed cuts to higher education at a Mizzou Alumni Association event Thursday night. 

The meeting, the 10th annual Legislative Forum on Higher Education, became a call to action for alumni. 

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the cuts are happening because the university community failed to speak up during smaller cuts the previous two years.

"We're going to use our voices this time," he said. "(If this budget passes) it will mean a 25 percent cut for higher education in the last three years." 

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, implored the crowd to support her initiative to raise the state's cigarette tax, which would raise revenue.

"There's no redeeming value in having the lowest cigarette tax in the country," Still said. "We can add $400 million in revenue in one year by having a reasonable tax."

If other measures fail, Schaefer said he will fight the cuts in the Senate, the last place the budget will go before it reaches Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.  

"There are a lot of other places in the budget where it could come from," Schaefer said. "(This budget) has been balanced on the back of K-12 and higher education. Period."

Though Schaefer offered few specifics, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said money could be cut from the Missouri Office of Administration and called the recommendation to cut administrative costs to the University of Missouri System insulting.

Kelly said the system has already been making those cuts for years, which has the system "eating itself from within."

Things being done at Missouri universities are vital, Kelly said, but admitted that giving more money to colleges and universities only means less money for someone else.

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, agreed that the budget situation has put everyone in a bind.

"It's pitted equally worthy parties against each other to fight for the scraps," he said. "And now the legislature is saying that it thinks students should have to pay more. Not the big corporations getting tax breaks."

Kelly said there is no telling whether a push to alleviate some of the cuts to higher education will succeed.

"I'm a legislator not a fortune teller," he said. "It's just the start of a ball game."

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Ellis Smith January 27, 2012 | 4:27 a.m.

All well and good, but I ask [again, as I did in response to Kennedy's column last week] where is the outrage from the general public? There doesn't seem to be any, and until there IS there will be continued very tough sledding.

An increased cigarette tax, with revenues tabbed for education, would be a good place to begin.

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