Government & Politics

Missouri Gov. Greitens announces $146 million in cuts; higher education takes biggest blow

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said Monday he will cut $146.4 million from the state budget because of lower-than-expected revenues and a poor state economy.

More than half the cuts will come from the Department of Higher Education, which oversees the state’s public colleges and universities.

“We must come together, tighten our belts, be smart and wise with our tax dollars, and work our way out of this hole by bringing more jobs with higher pay to the people of Missouri,” Greitens said in a statement.

Greitens said he would not take any money from K-12 education, although the restrictions announced Monday include an $8.6 million cut from the transportation budget of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The budget cuts also include reductions to adult literacy grants and teacher development.

But the biggest cuts by far were made to colleges and universities — almost $79 million in spending for public post-secondary schools was chopped. Included in the reductions is a $55.9 million cut to “core funding” of four-year schools, and $11.9 million in similar cuts for community colleges.

Additionally, Greitens reduced spending for capital projects at several state universities.

The budget cuts $3.3 million in spending for the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Free Enterprise Center. UMKC officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Missouri Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick of Shell Knob, a Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, said the higher education cuts mostly roll back additional spending approved by the last legislature, when the state thought it had more money.

“They may call it a cut, and it is a reduction to what was appropriated,” he said. “It’s not ideal for them, but he had to make decisions, and the fact that we’re already halfway through the fiscal year doesn’t make those decisions any easier.”

In an emailed statement, University of Missouri System interim President Michael Middleton said the universities understand the budget challenge.

“We are committed to working closely with our new governor and General Assembly in making the case for the University of Missouri System’s enormous positive impact on all of Missouri’s citizens and economy,” the statement said.

The Greitens reductions include a $3 million cut in the state’s tourism advertising budget, and $1 million in election costs. The budget cuts $500,000 from the state’s contribution to Amtrak. It reduced spending by $200,000 for Area Agencies on Aging, and $130,513 from obesity intervention.

The state will also hold on to more than $1 million in tax revenue from the athletes and entertainers tax.

Greitens, who took office a week ago, revealed his plan to cut the budget in a video posted to Twitter. A statement from his office said Greitens “will detail his plans to reduce government waste and grow the economy” in his State of the State address Tuesday night.

However, he’s breaking from tradition and won’t outline his budget proposal for next fiscal year in the speech. The Missouri House budget leader has said he expects a budget from Greitens in early February.

In his statement, Greitens said he did not cut programs “essential to public safety,” and said there would be no reductions to pensions and health care obligations.

“The restrictions were targeted, to the extent possible, at rolling back earmarks, new spending items, programs with no established track record of success, and services that are duplicated elsewhere in government,” the governor’s office said in the statement.

The reductions, though, were not a great surprise. Lawmakers have said for weeks the budget would have to be reduced because anticipated revenues were not materializing.

The governor said he and the legislature will have to cut spending by $700 million over the next 18 months to balance the state’s books.

The cuts are on top of about $200 million in spending restrictions made by Greitens’ predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Star’s Donna McGuire and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc