Saturday, January 24, 2009

Nixon Tiptoes Around Big Budget Questions



There were essentially four big questions posed to Governor Jay Nixon regarding Missouri's budget Friday. Nixon purposefully and even admittedly danced around answering them, but the way he responded may give us some clues to where he could be heading when he unveils the 2010 budget Tuesday. (You can watch Nixon's answers to the big four in the clip above.)

1) Since Higher Ed is safe from cuts, does that mean elementary and secondary education is vulnerable? Nixon left that on the table, but unclear. His answer: "I think Tuesday we'll present the full budget and we'll lay down what are some difficult choices in other areas." It would be hard to see Nixon pitting school levels against each other and forcing K through 12 schools to take the full hit, but he kept his cards close to the vest there.

2) Are the Access Missouri scholarships that benefit private school students likely to be cut or scaled back? Of the three big questions, Nixon revealed the most on this one. The scholarships, which were established in 2006, have been a point of contention for many Democrats and leaders of state colleges, who complain that public money shouldn't be prioritized for private students, especially if their families are wealthy. Many in the education world believe this is where Nixon is most likely to make a change, possibly scaling back the available pool for private school students. "There may be some areas in Access Missouri that we look at," Nixon said. "It would not be beyond thought that there are some work done, not in the level of commitment, but just in how that commitment is spent," he said. Possible meaning: Shifting more scholarship money to public institutions and away from private schools. Look for conservative Republicans to fight this.

3) Will Nixon withhold any higher education money from the current fiscal year to help balance the projected $261 million dollar deficit? The Springfield News Leader's Chad Livengood, (who makes a cameo appearance in the video above), posed the "withhold" question, and Nixon acknowledged he wasn't offering a clear answer. Watch the latter part of the above clip for his full answer. The short version: Nixon said it's certainly a priority to release 2009 funds as planned, but he can't tell students and faculty "never, never, never." He clearly can't rule withholds out.

4) Is Nixon banking on the federal economic stimulus package to help? Possibly in 2010, but not likely this year, he said. The focus for now is fiscal year 2009 because it's obviously much more imminent. Nixon said he doesn't expect to depend on money from Congress to help sure the state by June. "We will be watching very carefully what happens in the coming months because I think anything that would happen in D.C. would carry on out. It's not going to be of immediate assistance to us here," Nixon said.

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