This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 25, 2009 - The University of Missouri-St.Louis appears to be the chief local casualty of Gov. Jay Nixon's belt-tightening to balance the budgets for the current and upcoming fiscal years.
The university's plans to break ground shortly on $28 million in renovations to its Benton-Stadler science buildings are now in limbo. That project is among $325 million in planned state spending that Nixon put on hold today.
Nixon said at a news conference today that some or all of that money may be released if state income picks up during the fiscal year that begins next Wednesday. But given the current financial climate, administration officials have acknowledged that such an outlook appears doubtful.
Although not welcome news to UMSL, Nixon's action could have been worse. He vetoed another $105 million in state allocations in the 2010 budget outright, including $16.5 million in other higher-education construction projects.
Gov. Nixon's budget cuts
Vetoes total $105 million.
- $24.7 million interoperability
- $16.5 million MOHELA Projects
- $12.6 million ethanol funding
- $12.4 million care management and participant case management
- $10 million highway access to old penitentiary site
- $5 million community college maintenance and repair increase
- $3.5 million dental rate increase
- $20.0 million in various projects across all departments
Additional expenditure restrictions total $325 million:
- $91.3 million MOHELA projects
- $60.0 million salaries, expenses, contracts and grants
- $50 million Missouri Job Creation Fund
- $47.8 million maintenance and repair for state buildings
- $21.5 million in-home provider rate increase
- $16.1 million Veteran's Homes
- $12.2 million various DNR projects
- $10.5 million lottery funded Vo-Tech School projects
- $10 million trade zone facilities
UMSL spokesman Bob Samples referred comment to top university officials.
In a statement, president Gary Forsee said, “The University of Missouri System is disappointed that the governor has chosen to withhold funding for Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia and Benton/Stadler Halls at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, as well as eliminate funding for the agricultural experiment station projects across the state. As a practical consequence, all planning for these projects must come to a halt as the university re-evaluates its options.
“These construction and renovation projects enjoy wide public support and address long-standing problems with aging facilities that no longer serve the purposes for which they are intended. We fully understand the state is facing challenging financial times, but eliminating or delaying funding for shovel-ready projects represents a missed opportunity to stimulate the economy by providing jobs and better education and health care services for Missourians.”
Nixon emphasized at the news conference, "These are projects that we need to find a way to get done."
But in the case of Benton-Stadler, even if the money resurfaces, Nixon's action appears to knock out the plans to have the renovations completed and ready for students by January 2011.
Various regional entities that get state money also are probing the governor's office for more information about what exactly got trimmed from the budget, and what spending is in limbo and has -- like Benton-Stadler -- a slim chance of survival.
Nixon did say that he's not touching the $12 million approved to help out Metro, the region's financially troubled transit authority. However, that aid will be doled out in quarterly chunks, not all at once.
The largest bloc of money vetoed from the budget was $24.7 million for the massive statewide communications improvements for law enforcement and other first-responders. Nixon noted that he left in $87 million for the project and said his staff believes that should be enough to complete the project.
The governor said he's also trimming out $60 million from state operations, which he said will "result in the reduction of approximately 200 state employees above and beyond the 1,244 positions (already) eliminated in the budget I signed today."
The governor emphasized that all of his line-item vetoes -- which aides say are close to setting a record -- are "in no way meant to rebuke the Legislature,'' which approved the budget.
"We have worked extremely well and in a bipartisan way to move this state forward,'' Nixon said. "However, at the end of the day, the constitutional duty to balance the state's budget during these tough times lies with the governor."
Nixon, a Democrat, pointed out that Missouri was in better financial shape than many other states. Even so, the Missouri Republican Party accused him of mismanaging the state's fiscal affairs. "Nixon has repeatedly proven that he does not have a responsible, long-term vision for the state of Missouri," said state GOP executive director Lloyd Smith. "When everyone around him saw the looming budget crisis, Nixon was proposing hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending...Now Nixon has run out of options, and he is being forced to cut the budget."
But Nixon said Thursday that he did have another option. "Clearly, there will be some who wonder, 'Why not just sign the entire budget into law and roll the dice and hope and pray our budget turns around?' " the governor said. "Frankly, that is the exact type of thinking that has landed so many other states in the dire straits they find themselves in today."
Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance writer in Columbia who covers state politics, provided information for this story.