JEFFERSON CITY - The University of Missouri's Curators would retain much of their budgeting powers under the rewritten version of the House majority leader's budgeting plan designed to give legislators more power over the higher education institution's budget.
Originally, the constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. Gracia Backer would have allowed the legislature to appropriate money directly to colleges, departments and programs at the four-campus university system.
The rewritten version, unanimously approved by the House Budget Committee this week, would give the legislature authority to budget money to each separate campus.
Unlike Backer's original proposal, however, the curators would retain sole power for distributing the money within each campus.
The legislature now allocates a single "lump sum" to the system Board of Curators, which then distributes the money to the four campuses for operations.
Despite Backer's less drastic approach, local legislators continued to voice concerns.
"I still have a problem with a constitutional amendment when it comes to the budget," said Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia. "A constitutional amendment is a serious step and I haven't seen anything that warrants it."
In an interview Thursday, Backer acknowledged that when the bill makes it to the House floor there will be some legislators with concerns about changing the constitution to make curators more accountable for their budgets.
"I think they understand (budget accountability) is something that must be addressed," she said.
However, Harlan still maintains that the bill may be giving the legislature too much power.
"It is certainly important for the legislature to demand information from the university," Harlan said. "But it is inappropriate for legislators to try to run the university."
Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said he has been concerned that it could cost upwards of $1 million for the university to provide detailed information to legislators.
"At least now, it doesn't require excruciating detail." he said.
Under Backer's new proposal, before state money is allocated for the following year, the university must show where appropriated money was spent during the previous and current years.
"I think there will be a real learning curve and trust curve developed," Backer said. "People at the university need to know that just because you ask for (money), doesn't mean you'll get it.
If voters pass the constitutional amendment, Backer said, her proposal would make curators more accountable to legislative specifications for spending at the university. She has stressed the difficulties in tracking the nearly $360 million in state money allocated to the university.
In other action, the House Appropriations Committee added $1.4 million to the governor's recommendation for the university to cover inflation costs.
The additional money came from a freeing up of more than $6 million originally set aside for legislative and judicial salaries that the legislature had rejected earlier this session.
The money for the U.M. system brought the university's inflationary increase to 1.9 percent. Gov. Mel Carnahan originally proposed a 1.5 percent increase.
The higher education budget package now is being reviewed by the House Budget Committee which can make changes before passing the spending plan on to the full House.