Senate passes budget, cuts Ellis Fischel funds

The tuition freeze remains in effect for in-state undergraduates.

The Missouri General Assembly passed a $23.2 billion state budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year Thursday, but Gov. Jay Nixon said more cuts would be needed before he signs it into law.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut $31 million in funding for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, a treatment center affiliated with the UM Health System.

Funding for the state's public higher education institutions will be cut by $42 million, or about 5 percent. This maintains the tuition freeze deal for in-state undergraduate students Nixon and public university presidents agreed to in November.

The Senate committee cut the funding for Ellis Fischel in a 10-1 vote Thursday afternoon. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, was the lone dissenter.

Schaefer said members of the appropriations committee might have voted the funding down because the legislature has already given Nixon the authority to spend the $31 million, but Nixon has withheld the funds.

HB 22, passed by the legislature in June 2009, let Nixon give the center $31 million the state had received from the federal stimulus bill for highway projects. No law prohibits the road money from being spent on other uses.

Nixon vetoed the part of HB 22 that funded improvements to the cancer center because it relied on federal money. Nixon delayed the project until it can be funded with state dollars. Since then, state revenue projections have worsened, further delaying the project.

Schaefer said he tried to add the $31 million into the 2011 budget to force Nixon to fund the construction.

"I'll send it to him every damn year," Schaefer said. "If it takes making him stand up before the public and say he doesn't support the university, then I'll do it."

Additional funding for the center has been rejected several times over the last four years, but Wednesday the House kept the funds in place before the Senate cut them.

The House had the chance to cut Ellis Fischel's funding Wednesday but voted to keep the money in place, 119-38.

Some representatives expressed frustration with the Senate's decision but said the money for a new cancer center could be restored when both chambers hammer out the differences in the bill during a joint session.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the money has a small chance of being restored during this conference committee.

"This is not over yet," Kelly said. "But it doesn't help."

The budget contains $484 million in cuts for the state, though the governor had asked lawmakers to cut $500 million because of falling tax revenues due to the economic downturn.

Nixon released a statement shortly after the budget's passage, praising lawmakers for not increasing taxes or tuition, but also warned of cuts still to come.

"As most legislators know, passing these budget bills is an important step, but it will not fully solve Missouri's fiscal challenges this year," Nixon said in the statement. "I look forward to going through this budget line by line to ensure that Missourians' tax dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective manner possible."

Schaefer said the legislature had made most of the cuts the governor wanted and believed the governor would maintain his agreement with public universities on the tuition freeze.

Joe Karl, Associated Students of the University of Missouri legislative director, said ASUM was trying to keep the tuition freeze in place and did not lobby for a limit to cut funds on other projects.

"The tuition freeze definitely affects students," Karl said. "So that was our priority."

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