Future economic problems might impact education funding
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Future economic problems might impact education funding

Date: March 10, 2008
By: Matt Tilden and Emily Younker
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 2003 and the governor's budget proposal.

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House budget chairman said Monday he will recommend a cut in the governor's spending plan for the University of Missouri System when his committee takes up the higher education budget this week.

"Given the direction the national and state's economy seems to be going, I have a question on whether we can spend money on new programs," said Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County.

Icet's proposal would drop the governor's 6.1 percent increase in state funds for the UM System general education budget to a 4.1 percent increase for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Icet said he will propose eliminating the Preparing to Care program from the higher education proposal, for which the governor had recommended spending more than $13 million. The governor had targeted $8.2 for the UM System for Preparing to Care, an initiative that would increase the number of students graduating in the health care profession.

But Icet said he was concerned about any proposal that created obligations for future years. He added that whenever he looks at any appropriations bill, he looks ahead to 2010 and 2011 to decide if the plan is fiscally responsible.

The legislature appropriates a single lump sum to the university for its general education budget. It is up to the Board of Curators to allocate that money among the campuses and programs of the system.

Since the governor presented his spending plans to the legislature, Icet and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, had been voicing concerns that the governor's proposed spending increases were too large at a time of economic uncertainty.

The governor's plan would use in next fiscal year's budget more than $450 million of a projected budget surplus from the current fiscal year that ends June 30. Icet and Nodler have said they want some of that money held in reserve in case of an economic downturn.

The bill is expected by Icet to be voted out of committee on Wednesday and hit the House floor for debate after next week's legislative spring break.

Columbia Rep. Judy Baker's office said that she and Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, will each propose amendments to restore the governor's proposed funding of the program.

University spokesman Scott Charton said that's what the university is hoping for. The amendments would send the balance between the $100 million recommended for the Access Missouri scholarship program and the estimated $88 million it would take to fund the scholarship program back to Preparing to Care, Charton said.

In January, Gov. Matt Blunt recommended a 6.1 percent increase for UM System's allocation -- a $26.4 million increase. Icet's action would provide a $17.6 million increase in state funding for the general education budget of the university -- a 4.1 percent increase.

Icet said he hopes to trim nearly $100 million from the governor's proposed budget overall.