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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Missouri Cheerleader-In-Chief Nixon Plan Targets Colleges, State jobs, Accounting Gimmick for Schools

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Nixon plan targets colleges, state jobs

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 Thursday, January 20, 2011
BY VIRGINIA YOUNG  www.stltoday.com

JEFFERSON CITY • Universities would take a 7 percent hit, state government would eliminate 863 jobs, public schools would sign on to an accounting gimmick and tax scofflaws would get a second chance.
Those are a few of the ways Gov. Jay Nixon proposed Wednesday to balance next year's $23.2 billion state operating budget without raising taxes.
The governor, who styles himself as the state's cheerleader-in-chief, used his State of the State speech in a packed House chamber Wednesday night to accent the positive.
Noting that new unemployment claims are down and state revenue is on the upswing after two years of sharp declines, Nixon said Missouri's economy had "turned the corner" and was poised for growth.
"By fighting every day for every job, we are turning this economy around," Nixon declared.
However, more spending cuts are needed in the budget year that begins July 1 because Missouri has been patching its budget hole with federal stimulus funds, and they are drying up.
Nixon's proposal would make permanent about $270 million that he cut from this year's budget and chop about $300 million more.
One of the most painful reductions: a 7 percent cut, or $63.8 million, in aid to four-year colleges and universities and community colleges and technical schools. The schools are considering tuition increases to offset the cuts.
"We're anticipating that those tuition hikes won't be significant," said Linda Luebbering, Nixon's budget director.
Nixon contended that he was preserving this year's level of funding - about $3 billion - in aid to elementary and secondary schools, but that promise is contingent on an accounting maneuver.
The governor wants schools to hold onto $112 million in extra federal stimulus funding they are slated to receive this spring. Then schools would get that much less in the 2011-12 school year.
Still, the budget would fall short of fully funding the school distribution formula as legislators envisioned when they approved it in 2005.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who will likely challenge Nixon for the governorship in 2012, gave the Republican response to Nixon's speech. Kinder sharply criticized the governor for everything from Nixon's staff's salaries to his travel expenses to his hesitance to speak with the press.
But he agreed with Nixon's stance to balance the budget without raising taxes.
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