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New UM president must face Missouri's budget woes

November 12, 2002

By: Amy Menefee

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Elson Floyd is looking at a budgeting nightmare.

If the Western Michigan University president takes the helm of the University of Missouri system, he will need to draw on experience lobbying the Michigan state legislature in confronting Missouri's cuts of higher education funding.

But it won't be easy.

"Whoever comes into this institution as president is walking into a difficult time," said Sen. Ken Jacob, a Democrat from Columbia and minority floor leader-elect. "There is no money."

State funding for higher education was cut by 10 percent from fiscal year 2002 to 2003. And State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said more cuts are coming.

"Higher education is one of the few places we can go," Luebbering said. Because most of its dollars come from discretionary funds shared by the Department of Corrections and Medicaid, higher education is an easy target.

Luebbering said she doesn't think cuts have affected enough Missourians to cause a significant public outcry for education funding yet.

"It's just going to get worse," Luebbering said.

With a bleak budget picture in the future, the new president must emphasize the integral part universities play in the overall health of the state, said Quentin Wilson, interim commissioner for higher education.

"The most important challenge is getting the state to understand -- developing a compelling case that education has an impact on the economy and the quality of life in the state," Wilson said.

That's just what Floyd has done in Michigan, said Jeff Breneman, Western Michigan's vice president for legislative affairs.

"What he would be able to do is help the legislature understand what predicament they face," Breneman said. "He is not going to go in and say 'Don't cut higher education,' but 'Let's work together to find the best solution.' He would look at the overall budget situation."

Breneman said Floyd's success has come in part from seeking out public-private partnerships to give communities and businesses more of a stake in higher education.

"When you cut funding, you cut into the economy," Breneman said.

Floyd has emphasized the university's role in bringing economic development and employment opportunities to the Kalamazoo area, said Gary Henderson. Henderson is chief of staff for Michigan state Sen. George McManus, R-Traverse City, vice chairman of Michigan's higher education subcommittee.

Henderson said Floyd's enthusiasm has gone over well with Michigan's legislators.

"It's been an easy sell to other legislators when you have a president as effective as Elson Floyd," Henderson said. "When 50 percent of your budget comes from the legislature, you have to be able to make the contacts. Given term limits, you need to be able to make the time and investment into politics. Elson understands that."

Michigan Sen. John Schwarz, R-Battle Creek, said higher education funding has enjoyed a protected status in Michigan, but that it is due to a legislative decision rather than lobbying on the part of universities.

"We decided the last place we would cut would be higher education," said Schwarz, who has chaired the committee for higher education appropriations for 16 years. However, he did not discount the efforts of Floyd and others.

"Elson has been very good with the legislature," Schwarz said. "He has no compunction about going to the state Capitol and lobbying in a diplomatic and professional way."

Floyd, 46, has more than 20 years of experience in university administration and has raised about $75 million in private gifts and grants during his four years at Western Michigan University.