After legislators began going through Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) budget proposal many began expressing concern over his proposal to cut money from Missouri’s colleges and universities.
The Governor proposed a 7.7-percent reduction to higher education. Coupled with money frozen in the state budget that took effect July 1, 2017, that would be a 10-percent cut overall.
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said that would amount to a reduction of about $68-million. Higher education funding is also shifting to being based on performance, which could mean additional decreases for some institutions.
“I haven’t heard any rumblings from any institutions about, ‘If this happens, we’re closing,’ but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility,” said Fitzpatrick. “I don’t anticipate that all of those reductions will stand in the budget. I think that we’ll probably try to recover some of that, but I think that the institutions – some more than others – are going to have a difficult time with it.”
Fitzpatrick and the budget committee are just beginning the process that over the next couple of months will see countless changes made to the governor’s budget proposal to morph it into the legislature’s own state spending plan. He is sure efforts will be made along the way to restore at least some higher education funding.
“It’ll depend on what things we find in the budget that we think we can reduce or any other revenue source that we’re not currently considering that could become available through the process, which usually happens in some way shape or form,” said Fitzpatrick.
Legislators in both parties and in both chambers are expressing intent to propose more funding to colleges and universities than the governor proposed, so it seems likely the 10-percent reduction will not stand. Still the leading Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Representative Kip Kendrick (Columbia), said he’s alarmed at the governor’s proposal.
“This is a time when we’re at full employment. That’s what scares me the most is the economy’s doing well, yet we’re seeing such tremendous cuts to public higher education across the State of Missouri. I’m very concerned about what it’s going to mean for our state,” said Kendrick. “I think that this is a very concerning trend that we’ve been seeing … what happens in the next [economic] downturn? What’s that going to mean for higher education at that time?”
As for other provisions in the governor’s plan, neither Fitzpatrick nor Kendrick are supportive of a plan to take out a line of credit to pay for the state to get tax refunds out to Missourians faster. Both also want to retain or improve on the governor’s proposal to increase pay by $650 to state employees making less than $50,000 a year, but say only time will tell what form any state employee pay hike could take.