It seems as though the General Assembly always has a new scheme to threaten higher education funding.
2012 gave us a proposed 12.5-percent cut to Missouri higher education funding, which the Missouri Students Association and Associated Students of the University of Missouri fought with their “More for Less” campaign, including a campus-wide letter-writing effort and protest march in Jefferson City.
Last spring, a different threat emerged in the form of House Bill 253.
The bill, modeled after Kansas legislation, would have gradually cut income tax for Missouri individuals and businesses. The catch? It would have cost the state $800 million. To make up the budget shortfall, UM System officials said they would have had to hike tuition by 8 to 16 percent at MU and other UM System schools. The bill would have also added a tax on textbooks for students.
Gov. Jay Nixon was quick to veto the bill when it hit his desk, but the fun didn’t stop there. The bill originally passed the House 106 to 48, just 3 votes shy of the 109 needed to override Nixon’s veto. The bill went back to the House for its September veto session, and for a while, it looked like the House would be able to drum up the votes to override the bill.
UM System President Tim Wolfe and then-MSA President Nick Droege were outspoken opponents of the bill. To raise awareness about the bill’s potential effects on MU students, MSA and ASUM teamed up to host an event called “Kill the Bill?” a week before the override vote took place.
The event brought out Wolfe, then-Chancellor Brady Deaton, MSA executives and a number of state representatives who voted for and against the bill in April 2013. It also attracted hundreds of students, who packed into the MU Student Center to hear speeches, eat pizza and collect free anti-HB 253 T-shirts.
When it came time for the Sept. 11 override vote, the House voted 94-67 in favor of the bill, significantly short of the 109-vote threshold the bill’s supporters needed to reach for the override. In fact, 15 House Republicans sided with Nixon the second time around.
In what the UM System and many students touted as a victory, the House did indeed kill the bill, leaving taxation rates and tuition levels untouched.
A smaller but similar tax cut bill currently sits on Nixon’s desk: Senate Bill 509 is expected to cost $620 million when fully phased in, but the UM System has remained mum on what this tax cut could mean for higher education funding and students’ tuition. Nixon has spoken against the bill, and if he vetoes the bill, the General Assembly would have until May 16, the end of its legislative session, to force an override.