Editor's note: This story originally published in advance of the August primary. It has been edited to include responses from the candidates who will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot and updated to include a statement from 47th District state representative candidate Mitch Richards.
COLUMBIA — Many local candidates for state office have listed increased funding for higher education among their top priorities if elected.
In the past three years, Missouri's public universities have born the brunt of state budget cuts as lawmakers have struggled with declining revenue.
The last time public universities received an increase in state funding was in the 2009 fiscal year. Since then, universities have seen their budgets slashed as state revenue dipped after the 2008 financial crisis and economic recession.
Candidates all want higher education funding to be a priority, but they differ on how to make that happen.
University of Missouri System's budget
In January, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon called for a 15 percent cut for all public universities for fiscal 2013. The colleges were spared, however, when Nixon directed $40 million from a settlement with five of the largest mortgage companies toward higher education, and legislative leaders found other programs to cut.
When the fiscal 2013 budget was passed in May, the General Assembly had the UM System funded at the same level as last year.
The UM System was slated to receive just less than $400 million, but on June 22, Nixon announced he was withholding 1 percent of its funds out of concern the state's $24 billion budget was not balanced. That move brought the system's budget down to $396 million.
Of the money the UM System receives from the state, roughly half goes to MU, but that amount varies year to year.
Although the UM System dodged the 15 percent cut this year, its funding remains far below what it received in previous years.
In fiscal 2011, the UM System received $415 million from the state. In fiscal 2010, the General Assembly appropriated $475 million to the UM System. The 2010 budget numbers were aided by $50 million from the federal stimulus package given to the UM System.
Despite level funding for fiscal 2013, the UM Board of Curators approved a 3 percent tuition increase for Missouri residents for the next academic year. In-state tuition based on 12 credit hours will increase from $3,129 to $3,282.
The ability to raise tuition means public universities don't have to rely solely on state aid. Missouri law, however, prohibits public universities from raising tuition at rates that exceed the annual Consumer Price Index. For fiscal 2013, the price index was 3 percent. In the past, the state Department of Higher Education has waived the tuition ceiling to allow universities to shore up their budgets.
The past few years, the legislature has struggled to pass measures boosting state revenuethat could provide funding for higher education.
A $70 million tax amnesty program for the past two years has passed the House but languished in the Senate. The program would allow delinquent taxpayers a grace period to pay taxes without penalties. A group of Republican fiscal conservatives in the Senate held up the measure, saying it would reward people for failing to pay taxes on time. Supporters of the bill argued the choice was between people paying up without penalty or not paying at all.
Lawmakers also failed to pass legislation that would allow the state to collect taxes on Internet sales. Current law allows Missouri to impose such a tax, but it does not allow the Department of Revenue to collect it. That legislation would have given the state an additional $20-40 million annually.
One of the most explosive legislative issues in recent years has been the debate over whether to scale back Missouri's tax credit programs. In 2013, Missouri is expected to redeem $685 million in tax credits. There are 61 different tax credit programs in the state, varying from historic preservation to a credit for Missouri grape growers.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled legislature failed twice to reach a deal on setting annual caps and mandatory expiration dates — known as "sunsets" — on tax credit programs.
In the 2011 fall special session, the House and Senate were deeply divided over tax credits. The House wanted to create new tax credit programs for attracting data storage facilities, sporting events and a cargo hub at Lambert Airport.
To fund the new tax credits, the Senate proposed placing annual caps on how much money per year could be redeemed from existing programs. The Senate also insisted on sunsets for existing programs and refused to authorize a key part of the cargo hub plan.
After two months in special session, lawmakers gave up without passing any tax credit legislation, which would have brought more revenue to the state.
Another contested source of revenue has been whether to raise Missouri's cigarette tax, which is the lowest in the nation. An initiative petition to increase the tax is scheduled to appear on the November ballot, pending a legal challenge in the Supreme Court.
The ballot measure would raise the tax rate to 90 cents per pack, up from the current 17 cents. The increase would generate an additional $283 million to $423 million annually.
Democrats wanted the legislature to pass the tax increase so they could determine where the additional money would be spent. The initiative petition strictly requires that 50 percent of additional tobacco tax revenue be spent on K-12 education, 30 percent being spent on higher education and 20 percent on tobacco cessation programs.
Legislation to increase the cigarette tax never reached the Senate or House floor, as Republicans said the tax would negatively affect the poor.
What candidates are saying
Local candidates said they view higher education funding as a priority and a means to create jobs and grow the economy. Here's what they had to say about higher education spending and revenue opportunities:
State Senate District 19
House District 50
Missourian reporter Matthew Patane contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.