Universities seek funding on top of restoration of cuts

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As they prepare their state funding requests for fiscal year 2004, some of Missouri's public universities plan to ask that significant cuts they are enduring in the current fiscal year be restored, plus additional increases.

However, preliminary estimates indicate that the universities will be seeking money the state won't have.

State budget director Brian Long said the early forecasts point to general revenue growth of less than $200 million for FY 2004. General revenue is the state's primary source of higher education funding.

As a result, Long said the budget office is asking all state agencies to further reduce spending and will take a critical look at requests for increases above appropriations for FY 2003, which began July 1.

"Revenue is going to be so tight that we won't be able to fund many increases," Long said.

'It is their prerogative'

Public four-year institutions had their FY 2003 budgets cut by 10 percent from FY 2002 appropriations, which were substantially less than the General Assembly authorized because of midyear withholdings by Gov. Bob Holden.

Universities will submit budget requests to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education in August. CBHE, along with other state departments, will submit recommendations to the governor in October. Holden will present his budget proposal to lawmakers in January.

Joseph Martin, associate commissioner for higher education, said the governing boards of the individual universities can request as much money as they want. However, he cautioned that they shouldn't expect to get it all.

"It is their prerogative to ask for what they think is important, but it is up to our board to make the budget recommendation," Martin said.

The current budget calls for $45.4 million in state funding for Southeast Missouri State University -- 10 percent less than appropriated for FY 2002, though more than it actually received that year after the governor's withholdings. As a result, the university has been forced to spend its reserves, raise tuition and cut spending.

Ivy Locke, Southeast's vice president for business and finance, said the university will ask for a restoration of the 10 percent cut. Requests for additional increases are possible, but haven't been finalized. Locke admitted that seeking a higher appropriation is "a daring request to make" in light of the state's revenue projections.

"One thing my grandmother used to say that I try to use in my job is that you can't squeeze blood from a turnip," Locke said.

However, Locke said that with other universities asking for more money, Southeast must ensure it gets its fair share of available higher education funding.

$565 million request

The University of Missouri Board of Curators on Friday is expected to endorse a $565 million budget request that would restore all cuts and withholdings, with additional increases to boot.

Such a hefty request, if approved, would mark a $154 million increase over the current fiscal year and, as budget director Long noted, gobble up nearly all the anticipated revenue growth.

UM spokesman Joe Moore said the curators' request of more money than may be realistic to expect isn't irresponsible in light of the university's needs.

"What would not be responsible is to do nothing, let everything crumble, wait for financial disaster to damage the institution and then say what could have been done to prevent it," Moore said.

Officials at the various universities have complained that higher education has unfairly borne a disproportionate share of the state's financial pain. However, since higher education gets so much state funding from general revenue, it makes an attractive source for money when times are tight.

The state budget for FY 2003 is $18.9 billion. Net general revenue is just 36.2 percent of the overall budget. The bulk of the budget comes from federal funds and other revenue that can be used only for certain purposes.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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