JEFFERSON CITY - The University of Missouri System would lose $44 million under cuts to higher education approved by the Senate Tuesday.
Democrats say the approved 6.7 percent or $50 miliion in cuts to the state's colleges and universities would cause steep hikes in tuition and many layoffs at a time when the state's higher education institutions are already in peril.
"This, to me, is going to cause a dumbing down of Missouri," said Democratic Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, who led other Senate Democrats in opposing the bill.
But Republicans defended the cuts, calling them the least bad of the limited options available to the state.
"None of us likes what we have to do on the budget this year," said President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "We're doing the best we can in the most difficult situation in 70 years. We will get through this, and the higher education in our state will as well."
The plan relies upon an additional $200 million in revenue that has not yet been approved by the Legislature. If this increase in revenue is not approved, funding to higher education will be cut by $89 million, or 9.7 percent.
Jacob said it would be difficult for Missouri's colleges and universities to sustain this blow. He said that the state currently has 10 percent fewer college graduates than the majority of other states and blamed this statistic on rising tuition prices.
"We are in a terrible situation right not with college tuition, and it is just going to be aggravated with this budget," Jacob said.
Citing a report released by the Deparment of Economic Development, Jacob said tuition costs rose an average of 20 percent last year, earning Missouri a second place ranking for average percentage increase in tuition.
And with these cuts, Jacob claims that Missouri is on the road to earning the number one spot. He said tuition could increase 20 to 30 percent in all Missouri colleges and universities, adding to the 20 percent increase incurred last year.
"That means that to send your child to college, it could cost 50 percent more right in the middle of it," Jacob said.
He said that the cuts would be particularly hard on lower and middle class Missourians, who would be priced out of the market.
"This is a tax increase that they have absolutely no choice in, except the choice not to send their kids to school," Jacob said.
Jacob and other Democrats proposed numerous amendments, but all were defeated, largely along party lines.
"I might as well be talking to the wall," Jacob said.
But Sen. Norma Champion, R- Greene County, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee that orchestrated the cuts, said that the Legislature is doing the best it can to minimize the effects of neccessary cuts.
"Higher ed. took a big hit last year, and we're trying very, very hard not to cut much from higher ed. Of course, that's not much help if it's your school and there's a cut," Champion said. "But it's the best we can do at this time, because when we balance all the other education needs and all the social needs and all the entitlements that we don't have control over, there's just not much of the pie left to be divided up anymore."