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Senate Appropriations hears governor's higher education budget

February 06, 2002
By: Brian Connolly
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Like a student during finals week, the president of University of Missouri faced tough questions Monday from members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Facing a 10 percent cut in state funding, Manuel Pacheco joined presidents from several community colleges and four-year colleges and universities to answer questions during a hearing to discuss the governor's proposed budget. The budget cuts core funding for the university system from $460.4 million to $411.3 million.

Following the hearing, Pacheco said staff cuts will likely be a part of the equation in dealing with a budget that, accounting for inflation, provides the university system the same funding as fiscal year 1997. Pacheco said the cuts will be particularly difficult because the system made "substantial" reductions between 1992 and 1997.

"We made some important investments and we might have to give up some of them," Pacheco said.

The University of Miisouri Board of Curators has already looked at ways of dealing with the projected cuts, Pacheco said, and could begin deciding what action will be necessary as soon as their March meeting. Pacheco didn't rule out fee increases as a way of "filling in the gaps" once other cost-cutting measures have been exhausted.

"This would only be a guess at this particular time, but I think it would have to be a combination of approaches," Pacheco said.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kala Stroup said students may bear an increased financial burden.

"There will be challenges at our colleges and universities, and those challenges will address not only cost containment but also additional charges to college students," Stroup said.

Stroup also said that while the governor's budget would force the state's colleges and universities into 1997 funding levels, they accomodate more students than they did at that time.

Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, said she would like a more equitable distribution of funds among all four university campuses.

"The board of curators has not yet made any recommendations, respective to next year's budget," Pacheco said. "But in order to make any of the kinds of shifts that I believe that you're asking about you would have to take away from one campus to give to another."

Simms countered that such a shift was a possibility.

"I am not likely to recommend that," Pacheco said.

Sen. Larry Rohrbach, R-California, noted the large number of lobbyists present at the hearing and asked Pacheco whether the university system had too many lobbyists. Pacheco responded that university employs only one lobbyist who has one part-time staff member, but individual campuses may undertake their own efforts.

The House Appropriations-Education Committee is set to hear testimony from representatives of the University of Missouri-Columbia following the adjournment of this morning's session. That hearing was orginally scheduled for Monday.