JEFFERSON CITY — No Kansas Jayhawks will be appearing on Show Me State license plates — unless Missouri lawmakers first say it's OK.
Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law Thursday a broad higher education measure that, among other things, clamps down on specialty university license plates. It also creates a new state fund to help finance construction at public colleges and universities, expands college investment options and starts a new science initiative.
Missouri lawmakers this spring supported the license plate restrictions after fans of the University of Kansas and its Jayhawk mascot launched an effort to get the school featured on a license plate in its athletic rival's home state. The state legislature now will need to approve all military and collegiate specialty license plates.
Democratic Missouri Rep. Stephen Webber sponsored the license plate measure. His district covers part of Columbia, home to the University of Missouri System's flagship campus.
"We're huge rivals with them," Webber said of University of Kansas. "You're not supposed to have Jayhawks on Mizzou license plates, and I wouldn't expect to have Tigers on Kansas license plates. The rivalry makes it fun, and part of that rivalry is tweaking each other from time to time."
Still, Webber said he would be willing to propose a later amendment repealing the license plate measure if Kansas would agree to play Missouri in basketball this year. Jayhawks men's basketball coach Bill Self had said several times during the past season that he could not see scheduling the Tigers soon. The effort to create the speciality plates began more than a year ago, well before Missouri left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference, a move that effectively ended a long rivalry between the two schools.
Besides regulating license plates, the law signed Thursday also creates the Higher Education Capital Fund to provide matching funds for capital improvement projects at public colleges and universities. Schools would apply for the state money, and the funds would be limited to no more than half a project's costs. The institutions would raise private funds for the remainder of the costs and could not count money from their operating budgets, tuition or fees.
Money from the capital fund cannot go toward athletic facilities, parking structures or student housing. And the Legislature would need to endorse adding money to the state fund before any cash starts flowing for campus construction.
Supporters say state funding for construction on college campuses has been tight during the past decade and that offering some matching funds could help schools land private contributions.
Missouri officials in 2009 debated whether to seek voter approval to issue several hundred million dollars in bonds to cover the top construction needs at every public institution. Before that, the Legislature approved a plan to use money from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority for capital improvement projects, but some were put on hold after the student loan authority could not make all its scheduled payments.
The legislation signed by Nixon also requires the board for the Missouri Higher Education Savings Program to study investment plans available in other states and offer similar options in Missouri. It also establishes a new science, technology, engineering and math initiative to boost interest among K-12 students in those topics. The state Department of Higher Education and lawmakers could provide funding to support that effort.