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Crowell fights against plan to give SEMO extra $2 million for funding equity

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sen. Jason Crowell
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A disagreement over whether Southeast Missouri State University deserves a $2 million funding increase was contributing to a stalemate Tuesday on Missouri's $24 billion budget plan.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, wants to add the money for his alma mater in Cape Girardeau, which has the second-lowest funding-to-student ratio among Missouri's public universities. He's being opposed by Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who served as the university's student government president in 1994.

Their spat is the equivalent of fighting over a single penny found on a floor covered with 12,000 coins.

Crowell has vowed to filibuster all bills on the Senate floor in an attempt to force a House and Senate conference committee to strike the $2 million increase from the final version of the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Tilley has been adamant that the money must be included.

The dispute has gotten personal among the two lawmakers, who once were both friends and political allies.

During a debate that stretched from Monday into early Tuesday, Crowell accused Tilley of earmarking the money for the university as a prelude to a post-legislative career as a lobbyist.

Crowell rhetorically asked: "Can people not connect the dots when the speaker of the House says he wants $2.3 million for Southeast Missouri State University, and he wants to address funding inequities" that the state Department of Higher Education did not seek to address?

"He's already a confessed lobbyist. He's already fundraising for people in this chamber and people in the House," Crowell said.

Tilley called the assertions about lobbying "ridiculous," adding that he has not made a decision about what to do after his legislative career is ended by term limits next January. Tilley said there is nothing wrong about raising money for other legislative candidates, which he has done for years. Tilley and others -- including one Democratic lawmaker and a high-ranking official with the Missouri Department of Higher Education -- accused Crowell of opposing the funding increase because he carries a grudge against Southeast president Ken Dobbins.

"He's a child, and he basically said that 'if I don't get my way, nothing's going to happen.' That's how kindergartners act," Tilley said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, it's gotten personal for him."

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, rushed to Tilley's defense Tuesday, saying that Tilley is acting appropriately.

"What Tilley is doing is exactly what they pay us for," Kelly said. "Before he's a speaker, he's a state rep. He's doing the thing we all cherish, which is taking care of our folks. ... Southeast Missouri State University is important to Perry County. Tilley's argument is sound. Southeast is being underfunded."

Kelly also subscribes to the theory that Crowell is lashing out against Southeast because of animosity he holds against Dobbins, saying that the tension in the legislature is palpable.

Of Crowell, Kelly said: "People keep looking for logical reasons for his behavior, and there aren't any."

Paul Wagner, the deputy commissioner for the Missouri Department of Higher Education, noted that Crowell has frequently opposed measures when they favor the university. Wagner said Crowell has been a "persistent thorn in the side of Southeast Missouri State. What he's doing is right with the way he's always acted, which is to oppose the university."

Wagner also agreed that it's "very unusual" for a sitting legislator to oppose efforts to improve a university in his home district.

"He definitely on several items has gone out of his way to do something negative toward Southeast," Wagner said.

Two examples, he said, took place when Crowell worked to remove a $4.5 million business incubator at Southeast. He also vowed to fight a bill if Southeast was included that would have allowed universities to lease state-owned properties without having to go before lawmakers. Wagner noted that Crowell eventually dropped his opposition to that.

Wagner suggested that Crowell is still holding a grudge about the way Dobbins handled the financing of the River Campus. Wagner said he worked for the Senate at the time.

"He absolutely was very angry and very upset about the way the plan was financed," Wagner said. "He was opposed to the way Southeast went about it. He feels very strongly about that, and I think that's a big part of the root of his anger."

Neither Crowell nor Dobbins returned phone calls and emails from the Southeast Missourian seeking comment.

Meanwhile, late Tuesday afternoon a bipartisan group of Southeast Missouri legislators pledged their "unwavering support" for the university's funding increase. Reps. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter, and Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, came together to stress what they felt is the importance of the additional $2 million.

Underlying the tension is a policy dispute about whether Southeast deserves an increase when funding remains flat for other universities and colleges and funding for educational programs in state prisons faces a cut.

According to figures from the state Department of Higher Education, Southeast is getting $4,710 per full-time student this year. That ranks ahead of only the $4,366 funding-to-student ratio of Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, which is not slated to receive more money.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he doesn't oppose additional money going to Southeast, but he's not sure the timing is right. Mayer, who is an alumnus of the university, said a better approach would be to ask the state Department of Higher Education to come up with a plan for addressing funding disparities over a five- to seven-year period.

The Senate adjourned at 4 p.m., and Mayer said they were working into the evening to get the matter resolved. The Senate reconvenes at 10 a.m. today.

Mayer took a pass when asked if he was critical of Crowell's approach.

"I know that each senator has a different style and approach as they debate pieces of legislation," Mayer said. "During his career, he has been effective. It's not my style or approach, but it's an approach."

Southeast Missourian staff writer Scott Moyers contributed to this report.

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Again, I ask what does SEMO need with 2 million additional dollars that they don't need? We just keep spending, spending and spending let's get our prioritys in order for once.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Tue, May 8, 2012, at 4:19 PM

Southeast does not need this money any more than the others do. These are tough times. Should Southeast get this money it will continue to cut benefits and services so that more and more administrators can be appointed to sit in offices. Remember, those who can...teach.

-- Posted by Whatacrock on Tue, May 8, 2012, at 9:25 PM

Tilley is correct; Southeast is underfunded. But Crowell and Mayer are also correct in that the state can't afford the $2 million at this time.

-- Posted by tom on Tue, May 8, 2012, at 9:32 PM


-- Posted by smcpheeters on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 5:43 AM

This 'extra' $2Mil actually represents a decrease in the reduction of government assistance to SEMO. So, even with the $2Mil in question, SEMO will be geting less and the government will be spending less, overall, on higher education.

-- Posted by fightingindian on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 6:15 AM

And Crowell opposes why? I didn't get that from the story. From this story, it does appear to be grudge-related and that's not a good reason. As an always voter, I'd not forget this come election time. Perhaps Jason doesn't care and is planning on becoming a lobbyist.

-- Posted by Username1 on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 7:09 AM

How did this colossal fool ever get elected to represent our area of the State? In the 20+ years that I've known Crowell, he's always acted like a petulant little child if he doesn't get his way. His numerous legislative temper tantrums are infamous in Jefferson City and an embarrassment to his constituents. The end of his term limit cannot come soon enough.

-- Posted by SmokeRing on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 8:42 AM

Crowell frequently proves that a legislative bully can, indeed, prosper in the Missouri legislature. Who votes for this guy, anyway?

-- Posted by Raunchy on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 9:18 AM

This article is typical of the trash one has come to expect from the news media.

"Their spat is the equivalent of fighting over a single penny found on a floor covered with 12,000 coins."

Nice of the anonmymous author to throw that bit of editorializing in there. A million here, two million there, and soon you are talking about real money! Cavalier attitudes such as the one reflected by the writer have been a contributing factor to the fiscal mess our governments have gotten into.

-- Posted by Mark Rutledge on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 9:25 AM

Mark Rutledge, I, too, found the comment made about a penny amongst 12,000 coins a bit ridiculous. Indeed it is editorializing.

-- Posted by TommyStix on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 9:38 AM

I applaud Senator Crowell and his efforts. What this article has failed to mention are the programs that have been cut (to the blind!) amongst others to make room for the 2M for SEMO that they didn't even ask for. As a Southeast alum, I'm all for improvement but this doesn't make any sense to me. In difficult economic times - choices have to be made. This is the wrong one. Thank goodness we have an elected official that is trying to do the right thing! I can't say the same for other elected officials who are in an election year that don't want to rock the boat. Go Jason!

-- Posted by southern_belle on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 10:04 AM

Chris Kelly is the old pro here. He represents Columbia, which of course is home to the University of Missouri. Chris would never turn down any additional funding for Mizzou, even if he hated the President or Chancellor of the University of Missouri.

-- Posted by Grit on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 10:54 AM

-- Posted by southern_belle on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 10:04 AM

I could agree with you, if that was Jason's reason, but that doesn't appear to be the case. He doesn't seem to care if it's the "right thing".

-- Posted by Username1 on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 12:19 PM

I don't know how Southeast is under funded I believe they are doing quite well, they have several projects going right now. Bottomline is if they do not need the 2 million dollars why should the State provide it to them based on some study. The tax payers have spent a boat load of money over the past twenty years on this education gig we have going on. Just in 2009/2010 the Federal Government handed out over 21 billion dollars out in Pell grants alone. Over all student loan debts today exceed over one trillion dollars. I believe the tax payers have been quite generous but a time comes when you must draw the line in the sand and face reality especially at a time when we are broke both Federal and State.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 12:22 PM

Believe me, Southeast is politicking hard for this money.

-- Posted by Whatacrock on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 12:34 PM

He won't get my vote and never has! He was in college with my son an I heard to much.

-- Posted by Ramfan#1 on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 4:29 PM

He does not care about your vote. He is term limited out

-- Posted by Thelegend on Wed, May 9, 2012, at 7:53 PM

It is such a relief to know that Senator Crowell is no longer able to use his political power for his own personal vendetta against education in Missouri. Whether it has been issues relating to higher education or K-12 public schools, students and educators have not been able to count on him to do the right thing, but rather the opposite. I have seen Senator Crowell be dishonest in a forum about his position on an issue, and not knowing what to say when he was pressed to explain. I have witnessed Senator Crowell go on a vitriolic tirade about a pet issue where no other stakeholders involved seem to share his take on it. I have also personally experienced his petty responses to a constituent who questions his position. I think our district can do much better than this, so let's use this opportunity to make a good choice.

-- Posted by RedBlackDawg on Sat, May 19, 2012, at 10:44 PM

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