House Budget chairman recommends eradication of a health care program that would benefit the UM System
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House Budget chairman recommends eradication of a health care program that would benefit the UM System

Date: March 3, 2009
By: Valerie Insinna
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The House budget chairman recommended slashing  $18 million of funding for the University of Missouri System from Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposal.

The governor had proposed the increase to provide funding for the "Caring for Missourians Initiative" to expand health care education in order to increase the number of health-care professionals in rural areas.

The governor had recommended about $470 million in state funds for the general education budget for the university system for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.  The proposal from the House Budget Committee chair would provide $452 million -- almost exactly the same amount as was appropriated for the current fiscal year.

Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, justified his proposal saying it would be unfair to current programs to fund new programs, such as the "Caring for Missourians Initiative."

"I took a hard line on new [programs], and this is a new program," the committee chair said. "Here we are creating a new program when other existing programs are getting cut."

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, who is the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, said Icet should have left Nixon's budget alone.

"Gov. Nixon's budget is much more responsive to the needs to meet rural health care," he said. "The University of Missouri, besides being an educational institution, is the health care provider of last resort to 85 counties and Gov. Nixon appropriately perceives that and funded Caring for Missouri in his budget. This budget does not. That's a problem."

Kelly also criticized Icet's proposal for replacing $49.7 million of the university's state appropriation with federal stimulus funds.  The Columbia Democrat questioned what Icet planned for the state funds that would be replaced.

"That strikes me as if the money actually went to a little magic box in your office," Kelly said to Icet at a Budget Committee meeting Tuesday.

Icet said the funding should be saved for future years.

"I guess your could actually show a line item that says 'Here's the House's honey pot. Go for it,'" he said. "But I don't think that's the best way to appropriate funds."

Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palmyra, said it was unfair to the people of Missouri to just replace state money with federal stimulus money.

"Instead of taking this opportunity to use these federal dollars to provide services and help to Missouri, we've simply done another fund switch," she said.

Nixon's original proposal presented in January would have rolled an estimated $800 million of federal stimulus funds into the state's general revenue pot without any indication how the money actually was used.  However, Nixon subsequently has created separate accounts for the federal funds after legislators insisted that the budget show how the money has been used.

Icet has argued that kind of notation is necessary to aid in budget decisions in a couple of years when the federal stimulus payments come to an end. 

The House Budget Committee began Tuesday working on the state's multi-billion dollar budget. 

The legislature traditionally has appropriated one single lump sum to the University of Missouri Board of Curators to spend on the general educational activities of the system.  It is left up to the curators to decide how to divide up the pie among the campuses. 

In January, the governor had proposed that the university slash state funding for extension programs by half in order to finance the new health care program.  He later amended his recommendation to add another $9 million to his recommendation for the University of Missouri.