Education budget creates debate

Gov. Bob Holden introduced the Missouri Fiscal Budget for 2005.

The two parties locked horns over who is ultimately responsible for the decrease in higher education funding. The governor has placed the blame on the General Assembly, specifically the Republican portion of the Senate and House of Representatives. The Missouri House argues the withholdings the governor made last year are the cause of the decrease in higher education funding.

In his state of the state address, Holden said, “Those of you on the other side of the aisle chose to defend tax breaks … at the expense of our children.” He believes his new budget will restore the money he said the General Assembly cut.

New programs have been introduced by Holden to assist students. Jobs Now, a program backed by the governor, would encourage Missouri’s higher education students to pursue studies that would lead to high-demand jobs with Missouri companies. Children and spouses of Vietnam Veterans would benefit from the proposed Vietnam Veterans Survivors Scholarship Program. There has been $23,370 suggested by Holden to fund this scholarship. A Public Service Survivor Grant Program, costing an additional $22,460, would benefit children and spouses of public employees killed or disabled in the line of duty.

In his budget summary for 2005, the governor proposes a total of $697,250,724 to go toward higher education in the state of Missouri. Of this amount, $20,373,791 has been proposed to go to Missouri Southern. Holden said that would increase funding at public four-year institutions by $34,228,805. So far, funds have been allocated for Central Missouri State University, Harris-Stowe State College, Lincoln University, Southwest Missouri State University, Truman State University and the University of Missouri. The governor made no requests for additional funding for Southern.

Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) said he believed higher education is under funded, and money should be shifted from social services, specifically Medicaid, where the expenditure is highest. Nodler authored the change in the appropriation budget last year that increased funding to Southern, leveling the equity distribution. By withholding more than $2 million from higher education, Holden re-established the inequity distribution in the higher education process.

“The governor did not speak truthfully,” Nodler said, “he was gushing non truths.”

The tax increase proposed by Holden has also become an issue for the senator.

The Missouri Constitution and the length of the General Assemblies’ term create a time limit that won’t allow for a tax increase that will affect Missourians in the following year.

“He avoids seeking real solutions,” Nodler said, “the governor proposes a tax bill that he knows could not be incorporated; it is a violation of the constitution.”

Rep. Steve Hunter (R-Joplin) believes the budget needs to be re-evaluated in order to more adequately provide for higher education.

“I said in 1993 it was screwed up and it is even worse now, and they tinkered with it and made it even worse,” Hunter said. “That won’t happen this year. That won’t even be touched because of the election. Politics will play in the whole thing and a lot of finger pointing will go on and won’t be fair for anybody.”

The $2 million withheld from higher education has made other local politicians question the governor. Rep. Kevin Wilson, (R-Neosho) said the governor made the excuse that the budget was not adequately funded, but the budget is just an estimate based on a 4.8 percent budget increase.

“Through the first six months of the year, we have been able to fund the budget,” Wilson said “A tax increase is not the answer.”

“We can’t reach into the pockets of working families and take the first pay raise they have seen in some time and the growth that is creating those jobs,” said Rep. Bryan P. Stevenson (R-Webb City) in his Jan. 19 press release.

He said the legislature is dedicated to funding education, even if it means cutting other funding.

Rep. Marilyn Ruestman (R-Joplin) said according to the prediction she had been following from the Department of Revenue, state revenues are up. She said the governor should have released all the money he withheld as soon as he saw the state bouncing back.

All local politicians have pledged a commitment to stand behind Southern and only promote higher education legislation that would include Southern.