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UM open to big changes in higher ed.

April 11, 2005
By: Elizabeth Baird and Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - University of Missouri President Elson Floyd wants state lawmakers to drop out of the classroom. Appearing before a government reorganization task force assembled by Gov. Matt Blunt, Floyd argued for increasing the power of the state's education board and decreasing the role of the General Assembly.

When committee members prodded Floyd about the possibility of creating a super board that would centralize control in Jefferson City, he said he favored strengthening the current system by beefing up the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, which brings together regional university leaders.

"It is important to centralize," Floyd said. "The structure, I think is open to debate."

Floyd joined task force members in complaining that the current board is too weak. He said the work it should be doing was now caught up in the politics of the state legislature.

"If the General Assembly is serving in the coordinating function then the coordinating board is unnecessary," Floyd said. "I don't think that's good public policy."

The task force was hand picked by the Blunt administration and charged with making recommendations for big changes in the structure of state government. At Monday's round of hearings, they heard testimony from social services departments and state administrators at all levels of education.

Throughout the push for deep cuts to Missouri's Medicaid program, Blunt and other Republicans described the health care system as wasteful, bloated and heavily abused. But the program's director, a recent Blunt appointee, told the committee otherwise.

"It's an awesome group of people that have been running Medicaid," said Mike Ditmore, a Columbia Republican who lost a state Senate race last November. "I think they do an excellent job."

Few details were discussed at the hearings but Chairman Stephen Bradford did hint that the state's secretaries may be in jeopardy.

"With computer technology, I think most people can handle their own letters," Bradford said. "I'm wondering what a clerical person does for an upper management person. I think we could make some significant savings in those areas."

The Senate gave first round approval to two bills Monday. The first provides a 50 percent income tax credit for donations given to a certified residential treatment agency, like a drug treatment center. This credit would also extend to those adding wheelchair accessibility to their private homes. The second provides that immunizations be mercury free when administered to children under age three and pregnent women. An amendment allows that any adult may also request such a shot.

A bill authorizing an additional $217.5 million in this year's budget was signed by the governor on Saturday and announced Monday. The measure includes additional funding for social services, including Medicaid and the First Steps program that Blunt seeks to cut in next year's budget. The Missouri State Highway Patrol will also receive $500,000 to analyze the DNA of felons.