Settlement could soften the blow to higher education cuts

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | 7:56 p.m. CST; updated 8:19 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 8, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday he plans to soften his proposed cuts to Missouri's public universities with $40 million from a pending national mortgage settlement.

Nixon proposed a 15 percent cut to all higher education institutions for the 2013 fiscal year, which would affect Missouri's 33 two- and four-year public colleges and universities. The pending settlement is worth $140 million, but $100 million will go directly to homeowners. The other $40 million would cushion Nixon's higher education cuts and reduce them to 9 percent from what the legislature appropriated last year.

The Associated Press reported that the UM System would receive an additional $18.8 million from the pending settlement.

Attorney General Chris Koster said he supported the proposed national settlement but negotiations were still ongoing.

"My intention is to settle this portion of the state's case against the banks returning more than a $100 million directly to mortgage holders in our state and adding tens of millions of dollars to the state's general revenue fund in these difficult economic times," Koster said in a statement.

Koster is part of a lawsuit other attorneys general filed against the five largest mortgage companies in the country, which are part of the proposed settlement for fraudulent foreclosure practices during the 2008 budget crisis.

The Missouri General Assembly would still need to approve the use of additional funds. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the funds would not be available until the start of the fiscal year in July.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he was "delighted" Nixon listened to the higher education community on restoring some of his cuts. The Missouri Students Association encouraged students to write their legislators to voice their concerns. On its first day at a booth in the MU Student Center it collected about 1,000 student signatures.

"I am so proud of higher education," Kelly said.

Kelly, a member of the House Budget Committee, said that he has no problem appropriating the additional money even though the state does not have it yet. He said it could be used at the end of the fiscal year if it does not come in on time.

Nixon praised Koster's work and announced his amended proposed cut to public universities immediately after Koster's statement.

"My administration remains committed to working with our colleges and universities to make higher education more affordable and accessible for Missouri families," Nixon said in a statement.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, expressed support for the additional funds while still criticizing the governor's initial planned cuts.

"I am glad he realizes the cuts were unreasonable and unsustainable, but I will continue to work on this issue," Schaefer said.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, also said she was happy to see the cuts to universities partially restored, but that there was still a long way to go.

"We need to decide our values as a state and make investments in higher education," Still said.

Still said the state needed to focus on increasing revenue through means such as raising the state's cigarette tax, currently one of the lowest in the nation.

The announcement is obviously good news for the university, said Mary Jo Banken, executive director of the MU News Bureau.

"Members of the administration and budget planners will be analyzing this new information closely in the next few weeks to determine specifically what it means for MU as the legislative process continues," she said.

University of Missouri System spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead did not comment on the proposed addition to the higher education budget but said the Board of Curators is still planning a special meeting for mid- to late-February to finalize tuition rates.

The Missouri House just started the process of reviewing the governor's proposed budget. When the House passes its version, the budget will then move to the Senate. The 2013 budget must be passed by May 11, according to the state Constitution.

Missourian education reporters Celia Ampel and Zach Murdock contributed to this report.

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Richard Saunders February 8, 2012 | 5:37 p.m.

Let's see here... AG Koster shouldn't even accept a settlement (as I stated in the DOCX story), but instead go after the criminals who set up MERS and used it to destroy the integrity of the property title system (the reason there's now a robo-signing scandal).

Yet today, they've already planned on how to spend the money in order to fill a budgetary hole, and have done it in a way to ensure there will be no bad-mouthing the settlement, which in the end, is nothing more than legalizing fraud.

So, what does this tell us? Crime pays. Steal billions, get caught, then pay millions to the other criminals who ensure that nobody goes to jail.

Somebody tell me again, just how do we benefit from such a criminal syndicate?

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