Mark Scully, legislature, TV trends

Friday, May 31, 2002

Former Southeast Missouri University president MARK SCULLY died Saturday at the age of 92.

During many of the years that Scully was president, I was attending University High School affiliated with the Cape teachers college.

During Scully's presidency the enrollment grew from 1,500 to 8,000 students and campus buildings grew from 11 to 20.

Scully believed strongly in an affordable education as he attributed the low cost of his education at SEMO as the reason he was able to attend college.

I remember the mandatory attendance required of students at campus cultural events, the personally enforced dress code, the low administrative costs (prior to all of the federal programs), the white Ford car Scully always drove (part of his frugal image) and his presentations to local service clubs documenting that high school graduates with low high school grades (many times due to low effort) and low ACT scores rarely graduated from college.

However, he was willing to make exceptions for those who scored high on one of the two, because he felt effort or potential should be given a chance.

While serving on the Missouri House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, I witnessed a Scully episode. Normally we questioned most college presidents and their finance officers about their budget requests and expenditures ... sometimes for hours. But Scully was treated differently. It seems he once returned about $150,000 to the state, saying he didn't need it that year (probably a first time for a college president to let money lapse). This was an act that was met with much displeasure from many SEMO professors.

However, from that point on, Scully always received his appropriation requests in full without questioning. His appearance in front of our appropriation committee lasted less than five minutes primarily time used to compliment him on his fiscal responsibility and tight budget.

The following excerpts are from an experienced lobbyist who covers the Missouri legislative scene:

As usual, all involved on the legislative side gave themselves congratulations on meeting their legislative goals. News reports gave credit for a "balanced budget with no new taxes." The news media really needs to be a little more observant. By any reasonable measure, this session ... as it pertained to fiscal issues, was pretty much a disaster.

The state budget is about to fall off a fiscal cliff, and the state policymakers did not address any of the issues leading to the imminent fiscal meltdown. If you think this year was bad, just wait until next year.

Clearly, education funding should be a priority. However, in a virtual no-growth budget announced in January, Gov. Bob Holden pledged to increase education funding by $225 million. House speaker Jim Kreider quickly gave an amen to this idea. Both supported a package of revenue enhancements that primarily relied on increases in gaming taxes and eliminating loopholes in state tax law.

Some sanity entered the discussion when the General Assembly passed House Bill 1711, which intended to reduce the cost of the school foundation formula from $225 million to $175 million, a number that was still not attainable. Amazingly, when SB 1711 was taken up for debate, supporters suddenly pegged the cost of the change at $154 million, a number for which there is no valid justification. Even with the passage of HB 1711, budget conferees then decided only to fund education above $110 million if a revenue-enhancement package generated more than $89 million in new revenue.

The budget discussion anticipates minus 4.4 percent revenue growth in fiscal year 2002 (which ends June 30), and only 2.3 percent growth in fiscal 2003. This essentially means that the state will take in fewer general-fund dollars in fiscal 2002 and 2003 than it took in during fiscal 2001. Obviously, a deteriorating revenue situation does not argue for putting massive new dollars in a single program such as education. That is, unless you are the governor or the speaker of the House.

The real new revenue in this budget is illusory. The transfers and sweeps are one-time events, as is tax amnesty. In addition, virtually all of the provisions, and in particular the change in bonus depreciation, will sunset after one year, which means that there is little ongoing revenue in this package. However, because the package, according to budget estimates, produced $111.6 million in new revenue, the bill adds $22.6 million more to the school foundation formula for next year. This cost will be an ongoing state commitment, but essentially this bill only provided one-time revenue to pay for it.

No network TV news program (ABC, NBC or CBS) averaged over a 7 percent viewing audience in the last report. And the problem will only get worse in the future when digital video recorders like TiVo or ReplayTV become as popular as VCRs, according to the following article: "Digital Video Recorders Give Advertisers Pause."

Digital video recorders, or DVRs, make it so easy to program and play back shows -- they do away with videotapes by storing 30 hours or more on a hard disk -- that their owners often choose to watch what is on the machine rather than what is on TV. Ignoring the networks' painstakingly planned schedules, they watch prime-time programs late at night and late-night programs before dinner, often oblivious to the channel on which it originally appeared.

They also see fewer than half the commercials they used to, compressing hour-long shows into 40 minutes as they fast-forward through the advertisements that the television industry has long depended on to pay for its programming and profits.

One in five people who own a DVR say they never watch any commercials, according to a recent survey from Memphis-based NextResearch.

Numbers like that have provoked gloomy pronouncements from industry executives. Some even come close to accusing habitual ad skippers of theft. -- Amy Harmon, The New York Times

  • I missed not having my SOUTHEAST MISSOURIAN on Memorial Day. Only nine years ago the Missourian had no Saturday newspaper. Now ... 7 days a week with five holiday exceptions ... we labor to bring you the news in a timely manner. Many of you have observed that we often have later sports than received in the Cape area edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Example: Last Sunday we reported on the Saturday-night Cardinal game, while the Post-Dispatch highlighted the Friday game in its Sunday paper.

    Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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