$15 million cut could jeopardize in-state tuition freeze
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$15 million cut could jeopardize in-state tuition freeze

Date: April 6, 2010
By: Trevor Eischen
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HCS HB 2003

JEFFERSON CITY - The in-state tuition freeze deal struck between Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri higher education institutions would be undermined under a budget cut tentatively approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday.

The committee's chair -- Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter -- won committee approval for cutting an additional $15 million from Nixon's proposed $50 million cut to higher education institutions for the 2011 fiscal year that will begin in July.

Late last year, Nixon announced an agreement with the universities that if only 5.2 percent were cut in state funds for their budgets, they would not raise tuition for Missouri resident students.

"The reason why we discussed it is because we're trying to come up with $500 million," Mayer said, referring Nixon's call for legislators to trim his original budget plan by that amount.  Nixon has not presented a revised spending plan, leaving to the legislature to figure out where to make the cuts.

Last month, the House approved a budget trimming about $200 million from Nixon's original budget. The remaining $300 million represents expected federal economic funds that remain tied up in Congress.

The House Budget Committee chair has expressed increasing confidence Congress will approve that bill.

Mayer, however, echoed the administration's position that the $300 million should be saved for the 2012 fiscal year budget  -- a fiscal year Mayer said he believes will be worse than the 2011 fiscal year.

Although Mayer has proposed $15 million to be cut, the amount to be cut from each public institution has yet to be determined.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he does not support the proposed $15 million cut from higher education.

"I vehemently objected," Schaefer said. "I think we should continue with the governor's cut."

Schaefer said he was sure the in-state tuition freeze agreement would fail if the $15 million were to pass in a final version of the budget.

During the Appropriations Committee hearing, Schaefer said he wanted the committee to vote on who supported and opposed the bill, but no vote was taken.  

The committee has not taken any final actions on the budget bills. Mayer said he did not expect a final vote until next week.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesperson for the governor, said he believes Nixon's agreement will stay intact once the budgets go to a House-Senate conference committee.

In the conference, representatives and senators chosen respectively from the Speaker of the House Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and the President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, would compare the budgets created by both Houses in the General Assembly.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia and the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said the Senate committee's $15 million cut possibly could be a bargaining tool for senators to use during the conference to get more of their ideas and demands into the budget.

Both the House and Senate, in past years, have made changes in the budget simply to provide bargaining chips during the conference committee negotiations.

Kelly also said the proposed $15 million should be spread among elementary, secondary and higher education -- not just higher education.

Mayer said he understands the importance of higher education, but added that the budget must take priority.

"Having had three sons who recently graduated, I understand the impact tuition has on a family's budget," Mayer said, "Higher education of course is important, and we hate to make this cut."'

The Senate committee has scheduled sessions every day through Friday of this week to continue work on the state's budget.