JEFFERSON CITY - The University of Missouri System is looking to join 26 other states in a program that allows creation of districts and taxes to fund the system's extension program.
The extension program, first established when the system accepted federal lands through a land grant program, requires that the universities provide access to research and community outreach throughout the state.
"Their job is to provide a bridge from local communities to the University of Missouri," said Michael Ouart, the Vice President and Director of Cooperative Extension for the UM System.
The chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, sponsored the bill as a way in which the extension program can receive additional funding through voter-approved taxes. The bill appeared before the Senate Committee on Education on Wednesday.
Last year, Pearce sponsored a similar bill that cleared the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources in a unanimous vote. However, the bill stalled on the Senate floor.
Currently, groups called extension councils work to support the research and extension programs at the University of Missouri and Lincoln University. With the passage of Pearce's bill, the councils would also adopt the responsibilities of overseeing the collection of voter-authorized taxes and working to plan and facilitate any additional programming sponsored by the taxes.
To receive funding via taxes, the measure would require current extension councils to form either single or consolidated districts. Single districts consist of only one council and one county, while consolidated districts would encompass several councils and counties.
Each council would submit a vote to their district which could raise a property tax to provide additional funding. Districts, however, are not required to adopt the tax.
"It's obviously voluntary, not anything that anyone has to do," Pearce said.
Wally Pfeffer, chair of the Mizzou Alumni Association's Legislative Network Committee, was one of several witnesses that said each district can make a decision about the proposed tax as "they see fit or should they so desire."
If a majority of voters in the district voted in favor of the tax, it would be put into place. However, if one of the counties within a consolidated district differs in opinion from the rest of the counties, that county has the opportunity to withdraw from the district and would not have to comply with the tax.
Twenty-six other states, including Kansas and Oklahoma, have already operationalized this program, although some utilize a hearing system instead of an election to approve of proposed taxes.
Tony DeLong, the Extension County Council Coordinator, explained that Pearce's bill is consistent with other state programs.
Members of the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Student Association, and Extension State Council also support the program. No witnesses testified in opposition to the bill on Wednesday.