Governor’s threat worries institutions

Education is on the chopping block and Gov. Bob Holden is holding the ax; lawmakers, he warns, must pass his tobacco legislation.

Holden recently described the cuts during a meeting of the Missouri School Boards’ Association in Jefferson City. Public education’s checkbook will become thinner, $360 million thinner, if legislators don’t authorize the selling of tobacco bonds. Under Holden’s plan, elementary and secondary education will lose $259 million, and state institutions of higher education will have to part with $91 million of their funding.

In the tobacco plan that Holden proposed, the existing Board of Public Buildings would issue the bonds. Having the state’s credit to back it up, the bonds would be less of a risk for holders. In turn it would save the state $100 million in interest over the life of the bond.

Legislators, to make the plan complete, would have to pass a spending bill to enable the treasury access to money if the bond debt needed to be paid.

“This is the same thing he (Holden) did last year,” said Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield). “He’s holding the educational institutions hostage to his desire.

“I don’t like that way of trying to get something passed.”

College President Julio León, said he’s in favor of the tobacco securitization, and he hopes the governor and Assembly members will come to an agreement on the issue.

“I understand that he has to cut somewhere, but I wish the cuts were from everybody, not just education,” León said. “We’re in danger of losing another 10 percent ($2 million), and I think we’re going to get a cut next year too.”

León said if Missouri Southern does endure such a blow, he sees no other way to fix the problem other than to raise tuition, reasonably.

The only way to keep the raise “reasonable,” he said, is by cutting.

“I want my money here, obviously,” León said. “I don’t want to have to cut.”