JEFFERSON CITY - Speaking in Columbia one day after a Senate committee proposed new cuts to higher education, Gov. Jay Nixon affirmed his support for a tuition deal reached with Missouri's public colleges in November.
"I'll do everything within my power to make sure that we uphold that deal," Nixon said.
Next week the University of Missouri Board of Curators will set tuition for its four campuses next year, and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said MU will recommend that the curators stick to the plan to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition.
"We're honoring that and feel good about it," Deaton said.
The plan would cut the budget for higher education next year by roughly five percent, which would translate to about $50 million.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a further cut of $15 million beyond the originally agreed upon reduction.
The committee hopes to finish the budget tomorrow, said Vice Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. It would then need to be approved by the Senate and a conference between the House and Senate before going to Nixon for his approval. The House previously upheld the tuition deal.
MU Budget Director Tim Rooney said the university would have opportunities to increase in-state tuition next year if the tuition deal falls through but the timing of the legislative process could present some difficulties.
"There are certain deadlines we have to meet," he said.
The legislature must complete its budget by May 7, which Rooney said would likely be too late to adjust tuition for the summer session, which begins June 7. After next week's meeting, the Board of Curators is not scheduled to meet again until three days after the start of the summer session.
Nixon said his staff has worked closely with Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, who proposed the further cut to education despite Nixon's recommendation that it be upheld.
"You only give so much guidance to any senator," Nixon said.
A document released by State Budget Director Linda Luebbering shows proposed cuts discussed between her office and Mayer, but Nixon said these were not recommendations.
Schaefer was critical of Nixon for not being more public about his recommendations for cutting next year's budget.
"Behind closed doors, slipping suggestions to the chairman, he maintains the right to be critical of cuts that are made in the Senate," Schaefer said.
Earlier, Nixon defended his role in the process.
"I've been incredibly open," he said.
Nixon said he doesn't think legislators will have any problem finishing the budget before their deadline, despite his urging that they cut nearly half a billion dollars from his original budget recommendation, which he released in January.
He described Missouri's economic woes as a "small, relatively small, bump."
Nixon has withheld more than $1 billion from the current budget in several rounds, as recently as March 11, but he said he doesn't anticipate any further cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.