UPDATE: Nixon plan gives University of Missouri System $4 million less

Friday, June 22, 2012 | 5:39 p.m. CDT; updated 3:38 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 23, 2012

COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri System would receive $4 million less than a spending plan approved by the state legislature under budget cuts announced Friday by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The announcement in the state Capitol comes as Nixon prepares to finalize the state's $24 billion budget before the fiscal year begins July 1.

At Friday morning's news conference, the governor announced that he was withholding $8.8 million total from all public universities, marking the third straight year for higher education funding cuts. This year it's a 1 percent cut; last year it was 7 percent.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called the withholds to the university "unfortunate" and "not necessary."

In January, Nixon called for a 15.1 percent cut to all public universities when he announced his spending plan in the State of the State address. Leaders from both political parties, however, made it a priority to reverse those proposed cuts and hold higher education funding level. 

In this year's budget the legislature gave the four-campus system $398.2 million, the same amount as last year. Nixon's withhold brings the system's money from the state down to $394 million. 

Of the $398.2 million in state money the system got last year, MU received $227.1 million.

The state spent $850.4 million on higher education in the 2012 fiscal year. The legislature's plan had the state spending that same amount again in 2013. 

Nixon said the higher education cuts were necessary because he expects that the legislature's spending plan is $50 million out of balance.

The legislature's "rosy" projection of $35 million in lottery money beyond what was originally projected led to the withheld funds, Nixon said. 

Nixon also took issue with the legislature's $11 million cut to disaster relief. He said the state still owes money for the cleanup of the Joplin tornado and floods last year. 

"We must continue our steadfast fiscal discipline," he said during the Friday morning news conference. 

Schaefer said he did not agree at all with Nixon's statement that the budget is $50 million out of balance. 

If state revenues perform better throughout the next fiscal year, Nixon has the authority to return the money to the public universities. He also has the authority to cut additional funds if necessary. 

By withholding, rather than vetoing, Nixon gives the General Assembly no chance to reverse his decision.

The Missouri Constitution allows the governor to line-item veto budget bills, but it also allows him to prevent state agencies from spending money if revenues fall below projections. The legislature can override a veto, but not a withhold.

Overall, Nixon announced $15 million in withholds. Other programs he cut were an urban teaching program, the eating disorder council and advertising for abortion alternatives.

Nixon's budget director Linda Luebbering said more withholds may happen in order to ensure the budget is balanced. She said the governor's office would evaluate the budget situation monthly to determine if more restrictions were necessary. 

Nixon did announce some vetoed items that the legislature will have a chance to override, including $30,000 for Boone County government legal fees.  

Schaefer said he has put those funds in the budget for the past three years to help pay for legal expenses associated with a mental health facility in Boone County. Every year, Nixon has vetoed the funds.

State law allows counties with a state-owned mental health facility to collect certain legal fees. Boone County, however, is not listed in the statute as a qualifying county and therefore receives no money from the state. 

Nixon also announced a $100,000 withhold from the Missouri State Historical Society. The legislature gave the historical society a $200,000 funding increase from last year in its spending plan. 

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