Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Greitens Targets State's Colleges, Universities in Latest Budget Proposal

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Greitens Targets State's Colleges, Universities in Latest Budget Proposal

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY * Although he says the state's budget situation is stronger than last year, Gov. Eric Greitens unveiled a spending proposal Monday that will cut funding for Missouri's public universities.

The $28.7 billion blueprint, which includes $68 million less in state funding to universities and two-year schools, will now become the basis of negotiations between the second-year Republican governor and the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

"The budget we're introducing today is a common-sense, conservative budget. We're watching out for the tax dollars of the people of Missouri, making important investments in Missouri's future, and also making tough decisions," Greitens said during a press conference in his office.

A key factor behind the cuts is a rise in spending on Medicaid, a health care program for the poor and elderly that will cost the state more than $11 billion next year. Greitens described the rising costs as an "explosion" but said the answer is not to raise taxes.

Immediate reaction, even among the governor's fellow Republican lawmakers, was harsh.

"We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of students; they are the future workers and job creators Missouri desperately needs to cultivate," said Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. "Continuing to neglect our public colleges, universities and trade schools seriously hinders Missouri's ability to compete."

The outline relies on a projection that revenues will grow by 2.5 percent in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The budget blueprint was released 12 days after Greitens acknowledged he had an affair with his former hairdresser in 2015. He refused to answer multiple questions about allegations that he took a picture of the woman and told her he would release it if she talked about the affair.

Greitens said he had no plans to resign from office and he brushed off questions about whether the scandal could hurt his ability to deliver on the promises outlined in his budget, which includes adding $87 million for elementary and secondary education.

Other initiatives include a $162.8 million increase in funding for roads and bridges and a new $25 million matching grant fund for local communities to build roads and other infrastructure.

Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan praised the matching grant plan, saying the money could help businesses beyond building new roads and bridges.

"Missouri also needs to make key investments in our ports and utility infrastructure investments that will boost the economies of communities across Missouri," Mehan said.

The outline would spend about $200 million more than the current budget, but it would not raise taxes. State workers earning under $50,000 would qualify for one-time bonuses of $650 pending further reforms of the state hiring system, Greitens said.

The budget plan would cut about 90 positions from the state workforce of about 54,000.

Greitens also wants to close unused bed space at state juvenile detention facilities, saving about $3 million but add about $29 million in new funding for programs serving foster and adopted children.

The plan calls for the approval of a $250 million short-term loan that could be used to speed up tax returns, which have been chronically delayed in recent years due to cash flow problems. …

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