Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s Appropriation plan shows increase towards Higher Education

By Matthew Hunt

February 5, 2013

When considering Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s appropriation plan for higher education, Missouri Western officials say a look under the hood may be in order. Nixon is calling for $34 million for higher education. Missouri Western could receive a boost of 3.4 percent after meeting certain criteria. Dr. Robert Vartabedian, university president, said the problem is that the budget isn’t clear unless it is closely examined. He said he went back and read through Nixon’s transcript of the speech and discovered the fine print, which call for Western to receive a 1 percent decrease in its base appropriation. “I hate to have people getting excited for this money, when the proposal by the governor isn’t really there,” Vartabedian said. Nixon proposed a performance funding- formula where universities would receive funding-based requirements. Western received four out of five of the requirements, which leaves 80 percent of funding for the university. The reason it didn’t receive the 100 percent is due to graduation rates being low. Western ranks last in full student equivalency funding and would now receive a reduction in its base appropriation of $260,000. The proposed budget of $34 million -- if passed through the legislature -- would allow Western to receive around $725,000 over last year. Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryville), who heads the House Higher Education Committee, believes the proposed budget needs to have the justification and rationale as to why schools get the support they receive. “I know that Missouri Western feels that they’re not given support equitably according to some of the other state universities,” Thomson said. “We all feel we need more money and education already makes up 47 percent of the state budget.” The $725,000 boost the university would receive would be lowered further considering unfunded mandates that would need to be paid for first. Vartabedian said that instead of a 3.4 percent increase that Western would be at 2.4 percent. Cale Fessler, vice president of financial planning, said the 1 percent cut in the base funding is something the university will need to examine as to its effect on budgeting. “The proposal is still in its first stages,” Fessler said. “I believe there will be changes.” The funding Western would receive after the 1 percent cut would most likely go toward deferred maintenance on campus. Vartabedian and Fessler believe that after the legislature’s sorting of the budget they will have a better handle on where the funds will be placed. “You can’t have a building roof cave in on students,” Vartabedian said. Western has been building up its reserves after the appropriations increase last year and might consider opening the reserves for one-time emergencies. Vartabedian and the university’s Board of Governors have discussed using $800,000 of Western’s $8.3 million in reserves. Vartabedian has expressed his concerns toward taking out too much from the reserves in case problems occur later. “We don’t want to take too much out because the legislative cycle could get worse,” Vartabedian said. “We will try to be as democratic as possible but stay fearful to go under the $7 million level in the reserves.”