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Leading Rep. Considers Closer Look At Spending

October 07, 1999
By: Francie Krantz
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - At least one leading state lawmaker says he wants to take a closer look at MU's spending practices, especially in the wake of this year's system-wide budget crunch.

Rep. Scott Lakin, D-Kansas City, said he's considering meeting with fellow legislators during November or December to examine how each state university can improve its budgetary management problem. Such a move would be highly unusual, since the legislature doesn't normally deal with appropriations until January.

"We try not to micromanage the universities," said Lakin, who chairs the Education and Public Safety Appropriations Committee. "But if they're going to ask for state money, they have to know how to manage their own house."

Lakin said he is very concerned about how the University system is spending money, and would like to see them justify their expenditures. If they can do that, he said, they'll likely get full support from legislature.

Last spring, lawmakers gave the University of Missouri system one of the larger budget increases in recent years -- $419 million for the fiscal year that began July 1, a six percent increase over the prior fiscal year.

Under the appropriations approach used by lawmakers, the legislature provides one lump sum to the Board of Curators each year for the general operation of the university. The legislature does not dictate how that money is divided among the campuses or programs. Instead, the curators have sole authority to determine how to spend those state funds.

Many MU employees feel this year's large budget increase has not raised their stock at the university. Rising health care expenses and mission enhancement programs have cost the UM system millions of dollars, and kept employee salary increases to a minimum.

In response to this fiscal dilemma, the curators asked all four campuses in the system to make at least $9.7 million in cuts by next year to prevent a potential deficit.

Although most lawmakers were not aware of an impending financial shortage, they were conscious that higher costs would keep pay raises down, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County.

"We knew they were going to be on the tight side for money, but we were limited in the amount of money we could appropriate because that would have meant taking more money away from somewhere else," he said.

Lakin stressed that the legislature should not play a role in determining where those cuts come from; rather, lawmakers should make sure universities waste the least amount of money possible.

"We (in the legislature) can't make up for all of the deficits that MU has," he said. "I'd like to see all of the universities really look at their budgets and do as much cutting as possible before they ask us for more money."