JEFFERSON CITY — House Democrats are backing a 12.6 percent funding increase for state colleges and universities — a raise they say would reverse several years of budget cuts and take higher education spending to a record high.
The nearly $111 million increase embraced Tuesday by Democrats also was recommended last month by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
The coordinating board, like other state agencies, submits annual spending requests to the governor, who proposes a budget to the legislature, which then develops and passes its own spending blueprint.
State colleges and universities took a heavy hit when Missouri encountered budget troubles several years ago. Bob Holden, governor at the time, withheld a portion of the $972 million that had been appropriated to universities and colleges in the 2002 fiscal year.
More cuts followed, and state funding for higher education institutions still has not rebounded to the levels they were supposed to get five years ago. Colleges and universities received a 2 percent increase this year, bringing their basic operational funding to $877 million.
The proposal embraced by House Democrats and the higher education board would raise that to $988 million for the 2008 fiscal year.
“A college degree is a cornerstone of the American dream... the ticket to success,” said House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia. “We have to do a better job of supporting public higher education in the state of Missouri.”
A 12.6 percent increase should prevent colleges and universities from having to raise tuition, or at least should prevent large tuition increases, Harris said.
Blunt spokesman Brian Hauswirth said the governor supports a funding increase for higher education institutions but hasn’t committed yet to a specific dollar amount.
But House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said it seemed like a financial stretch.
“My initial impression of a 12.6 percent increase is it’s on the high side, given the other financial obligations that are expected to come to fruition in next year’s budget,” he said.