Gov. Jay Nixon made a lot of promises last week.
Among them were $278 million additional funding for early childhood, primary and secondary education, $22 million for a science and math initiative, $20 million for training of 1,200 mental health professionals and a pledge to freeze tuition for state universities.
“We must work to help every child start school ready to learn,” Nixon said in his State of the State address. “We must demand that every school is getting the job done, and we must make sure that every student can afford to get a college degree.”
Much of the governor’s rhetoric was challenged by republican legislators who claim that Nixon’s $27.7 billion budget, with a planned $66.5 million more in additional revenue than estimated by republican leaders, leaves too much to chance should those revenues fall through.
“I think the governor probably overshot his target a little bit, and what many people don’t realize about the process is that the more money that gets thrown in on the front end gives the governor power on the back end to withhold those dollars and to control how the state spends money,” State Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said. “I think this is obviously a pretty blatant political move on his part to try to grab hold of some more dollars. There’ll be a meeting in the middle somewhere, I’m sure.”
Also coming under fire was Nixon’s rally against rising university tuition. Since his budget would provide an additional $80 million to higher education, he asked institutions to freeze tuition this fiscal year.
While Rowden doesn’t disagree with a tuition freeze, he called Nixon out for using universities as “political pawns.”
“I don’t think it’s the governor’s job or the legislature’s job to call on institutions to freeze tuition,” Rowden said. “I don’t like that, and I don’t think that’s a good way to make sure we’re getting the most out of our dollars.”
Yet for the UM System, Nixon’s speech must have worked; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that UM System President Tim Wolfe told its editorial board last week that he will recommend against raising tuition at the next meeting of the Board of Curators.
Some of the governor’s other efforts, like a promise to implement stricter, performance-based evaluations of higher education institutions, received positive bipartisan feedback from legislators.
“Mizzou’s always going to fare well when it comes to performance funding because they do the job, and so I think that bodes well for us in Columbia,” Rowden said.
Rowden, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, voted for legislation last year that, if passed, would have implemented a model similar to that now supported by Nixon. This year, the proposal comes from a fellow Republican: State Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, whose Senate Bill 492 would make each state institution of higher education choose a funding model through which it would receive additional state revenue.
While Rowden supported last year’s push for a new funding model, he said Pearce’s more flexible approach — last year’s would have established a concrete, across-the-board system for determining which institution gets what — should make for easy passage.