Extension cuts could cripple program

Brennan Stebbins

A proposed 54 percent funding cut to the University of Missouri Extension Program has ruffled feathers across the state.

Gov. Jay Nixon proposed in his Fiscal Year 2010 budget a $14.6 million cut to the extension program, which has locations in each county.

Anita Hampton, who chairs the Polk County Extension Program and represents 16 southwest Missouri counties as an officer for the state extension council, painted a grave picture of the program should the cuts go into effect.

“It would absolutely cripple the extension program,” Hampton said.

The program is supplemented with federal matching dollars, which would also be lost if the budget was sliced in half.

“The $14.6 million is not but the tip of the iceberg,” Hampton said. “In reality we have a budget coming from the federal government that is matching dollars for the state appropriation amount. There will be at least a $22 to $23 million cut for extension right off the bat and it will be reoccurring every single year.”

The extension offers several programs, including 4-H Youth Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Community Development and Continuing Education. Those programs and more may now be at stake.

“There will be no way we can have a specialist in every county across the state, and in reality we’ll have to cut programs,” Hampton said. “We’ll have to possibly even close some of the offices. We have county support through our commissioners for our offices but the county money is a formula that is based on the amount of specialists the state has.”

Program grants also face the prospect of being lossed. Hampton said in pat years when the program’s budget was cut, the extension reduced staff and “dug in” to obtain contracts and grants for programs that could be implemented with the help of people around the region.

“We’re going to have to turn that grant contract money right back to them because we’re not going to have the manpower in which to do it,” she said.

The proposal has come under fire from several lawmakers, including Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho) who called the cuts “drastic” last week.

“That would drastically impact probably more than anything else the rural counties in the state because those are education programs and things the University of Missouri can do in the counties,” Wilson said. “He cut them 50 percent while at the same time saying ‘I want to keep higher education and freeze it.’ The University of Missouri extension has always been a part of higher education but yet he has now carved that out and said ‘I’m going to cut that by $15 million but yet I’m holding higher education,’ so I don’t know how you have it both ways.

“Either they are in higher education or they aren’t,” he added. “You can’t say I’m going to hold higher education harmless and then cut $15 million out of their budget.”

Rep. Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) was worried about jobs being lossed if the cuts take place.

“There’s no sacred cow in the state budget,” Flanigan said. “Everybody’s going to get hit. Is it Okay to hit them with a 50 percent cut? I don’t know, I don’t know what that means. I don’t want people losing their jobs, but then again we’re also constitutionally required to have a balanced budget, so that means something’s going to get cut.”

The opposition to the proposal is a sign for Hampton that the cuts could be lowered or possibly dropped altogether.

“I’m very optimistic and my hope is that we will not receive a cut,” she said. “That’s what I’m working toward today. I’m going to do everything I can.”

Still, the final say will rest with Nixon.

“In order to balance the budget, the constitution gives that discretion and authority solely to the Governor,” Rep. Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) said. “So the Legislature, we’re just bystanders watching what the Gov. does. If the Gov. does hold that much from extension there’s nothing that we the Legislature can do. The proverbial ball is in the Governor’s court as far as I’m concerned.”