JEFFERSON CITY - Public universities would bare the brunt of Missouri's budget shortfall under Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's 2013 budget proposal presented Tuesday during his State of the State address.
Nixon's budget would cut funding for all four year public institutions by 15.1% from last year's budget. It would be the largest percentage cut to Missouri's public universities in the past two decades. Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called the cuts "unacceptable."
"Can public universities survive with that kind of cut?" Schaefer asked.
A top Democrat on the House Budget Committee Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was concerned about the universities. Lampe said she did not know how the colleges would be able to survive such a cut without raising tuition.
In an hour long speech Nixon made only one brief reference to the higher education cuts.
"I am calling on our colleges and universities to continue to look for more ways to cut overhead administrative costs and run smarter, more efficient operations. And while leaner more efficient operations are essential, higher education must continue to adapt to the modern economy," Nixon said.
State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said this year's budget was a "challenge," but that the governor was able to present a balanced budget without raising taxes. The governor's plan reflects a $500 million shortfall caused by the use of federal stimulus dollars in previous budgets and a larger Medicaid bill caused by the cuts in the federal government's matching rates.
Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, disputed the claim said Nixon's budget was balanced saying it relied on programs the General Assembly has not yet approved. Specifically, Nixon's budget includes $52 million in savings from a tax amnesty program that has failed to pass the legislature twice.
"I am concerned when the governor takes speculative measures to balance the budget. I support it, but it certainly did not pass," Schaefer said.
In addition to cuts in higher education funding, Nixon's budget makes $192 million in cuts to certain Medicaid services and eliminates 816 state employee positions. Luebbering said that most of the eliminated positions will be handled through retirements and not filling vacant positions, but there will still be employees who are laid off. Nixon has removed 4100 state positions since taking office in 2009.
The governor's budget did have some good news for state employees in the form of a two percent pay raise starting January 1. However, by starting in January the raise does not factor in the first six months of the state's fiscal year.
Nixon was able to find money to increase funds for elementary and secondary education by $5 million. Despite Nixon's raise to school districts, the funding would still be about $500 million below what the school funding law requires for a fully funded system.
"Some states have opted to balance their budget on the backs of schoolchildren. But I have not met one parent or one teacher in Missouri who thinks we should balance our budget by taking money from their kid's classroom," Nixon said.
House Budget Chair Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, questioned Nixon's funding commitment to local districts.
"I think its a weird move. I guess obviously it highlights that it is an election year. You are going to add $5 million to $3 billion and then crow about how it is the largest education budget in state history? I think it comes out to $5 per pupil," asked House Budget Chair Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.
The General Assembly will now work on the budget and could make changes to the governor's proposals. The budget must be sent to the governor's desk for final approval by May 11.