- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Columbia Daily Tribune, Feb. 13

A new era for UM funding?

Faced with a funding “crisis,” University of Missouri curators ponder their fiscal future.

In an era of steadily declining state funding, Gov. Eric Greitens promises further cuts in the coming fiscal year. Chairwoman Jeanne Sinquefield of the UM System Review Commission told curators that when her oldest son graduated, the state provided 62 percent of MU revenue; now the level has dropped to 33 percent. The commission recommends curators seek repeal of a state law capping university tuition increases. Because their budgets reflect steady declines in higher education funding, legislators might not be in good position to deny this option.

All of which means the pinch is likely to remain and ever larger reliance will fall on tuition revenue. Curators consider creative schemes such as tuition levels based on variable costs at UM System campuses and increased surcharges for higher-cost programs.



All of which flies in the face of tradition. Higher education in America grew as a primary obligation of the state, but as costs balloon state budgets fail to keep up, leading to today’s persistent debate over revenue support.

Bigger has been regarded as better. Premier institutions receive more public funding than average, but even those with the largest state budgets are feeling the squeeze. University officials say budget cuts are forcing them to cut spending “to the bone,” and denizens of colleges and their towns resist the very idea of spending limits, but clearly the spending side of UM and other higher education budgets must receive attention.

UM presidents in the past have tried to do this with reasonable schemes such as Brice Ratchford’s “Role and Scope” and more timorous versions promoted by successors Jim Olson and Tim Wolfe. Had he remained here long enough, President Elson Floyd probably would have pushed the idea. MU Chancellors Barbara Uehling and Charles Kiesler gave it whirl, and I daresay every university officer in recent history struggling to make a budget has pondered the same idea: REALLOCATION. The dreaded “R” word disdained by higher education managers well aware of the pitfalls gobbling up predecessors as their attempts to focus on fewer higher-priority programs have been met with furious pushback from constituents of the disfavored.

A cursory look at UM budgets will show substantial opportunity for saving money while retaining or even enhancing the quality of key programs, particularly at MU, where the most expensive reside. I hate the very idea of getting rid of any program, no matter how peripheral, but the idea of funding focus gains credence as available revenue dries up.

In higher education parlance, it’s called “exigency,” a condition of fiscal starvation that gives an excuse for budget managers to impose unpopular cuts.

But despite the current budget “emergency,” exigency might not yet be upon us. If university officials dare suggest painful reductions in certain programs, they can expect all hell to break loose from constituents convinced their favorites deserve support. And based on another higher education tradition - that a university should offer a large variety including arcane courses of study a citizen won’t find otherwise - I can argue strenuously for postponing reallocation as long as possible.

So there we have the awful dilemma facing the curators as they contemplate an increasingly bare cupboard. Many of my friends, and theirs, will beg for continued funding, joining a large and impassioned protest against state funding parsimony.

The Commission on Higher Education does a credible job resisting new programming at campuses across the state, but when it comes to possible reductions in existing offerings, the monkey lands first on the backs of local officials. They are tempted to make across-the-board reductions, sharing the pain without making priority judgements. Is that the best way? Maybe not. Is that the only way? Maybe yes, for now.

Kicking the reallocation can down the road is an Olympic sport.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Feb. 12

Our Opinion: Matter of fairness

Amazon, the online seller - first of first books and, now, everything under the sun - began collecting Missouri’s 4.225 percent sales tax Feb. 1.

Missouri residents, who now are paying the tax on Amazon orders, likely won’t be cheering on the move. But it’s a matter of fairness that should have been addressed years ago.

The giant retailer now collects sales tax in more than 30 states, including four others that were included along with Missouri at the beginning of the month.

Legally, Amazon doesn’t have to collect sales tax in states such as Missouri, where it doesn’t have brick-and-mortar facilities. But that could change soon. The St. Louis Business Journal recently reported Amazon is considering St. Louis as a new distribution center.

David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association (MRA), told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“This is going to be good for Missouri and good for our communities, because we provide a lot of services, and finding resources is getting tougher and tougher. This is a long time coming. We can’t continue down the way we are without hurting Main Street businesses.”

MRA is a Jefferson City-based trade group that supports requiring online retailers to collect sales tax.

The organization argues online retailers have an unfair competitive advantage over Missouri stores.

Their argument is just. Retailers often tell stories about customers who shop for items in their stores, but end up buying them online, where businesses can operate with a lower overhead because they don’t pay tax and don’t have the expenses of brick-and-mortar stores.

The issue isn’t just with Amazon. Missouri’s tax code should be updated to require internet retailers to collect tax and remit it to the Missouri Department of Revenue.

The issue has been brought up for years in the Missouri Legislature but has yet to be approved.

It would even the playing field between internet retailers and brick-and-mortar stores in the state. And, as an added bonus, it would bring in some much-needed revenue to the state at a time when various proposed funding cuts are about to be debated.

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The St. Joseph News-Press, Feb. 9

School busing takes money

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens faced a difficult budget decision his first few days in office, and to his credit he addressed it head-on by cutting $146.4 million in planned spending.

He cited lower-than-expected tax revenues and rising costs in Medicaid and other programs. Legislative leaders say the cuts should be enough to keep the budget balanced.

Still, the governor should take equal pride in transparency and being open with the public about the actions he reasons are necessary.

There is no upside to suggesting cuts spared this or that constituency - such as K-12 classroom education - when in fact that does not appear to be the case. And if Greitens has an explanation that would clarify matters, the public needs to hear it.

These thoughts are top of mind as taxpayers and school boosters weigh the impact of the budget decisions. The biggest cuts - almost $79 million - impact public universities and community colleges. But another $8.6 million came from the transportation budget of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Greitens said he would not take money from K-12 education, but his withholding of millions of dollars for transportation aid will have the same impact, multiple school administrators say.

Likewise, the governor’s budget plan for next year shows further cuts in busing aid.

Tax dollars all come from the same place. It’s hardly helpful to tout that the current-year budget cuts did not take money from the Foundation Formula that funds K-12 classroom education - and then, in the same breath, cut funding for school bus operations that must be made up somewhere.

Greitens compounds this bad look by failing to adequately explain his view on the matter. In the past week, the Associated Press reported the governor’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment about the school administrators’ concerns.

It appears Greitens was justified in making substantial cuts, and it’s likely education would have a hard time coming out unscathed. Better to own this than to seem not wanting to acknowledge the obvious.

_____

The Springfield News-Leader, Feb. 11

Time to measure ‘right-to-work’

For several years, as the issue comes before different states, people have argued about “right-to-work” laws.

The argument, like many others, tends to split right at the party line.

Republicans say it protects manufacturing employees who don’t want to pay for union representation, either because those employees don’t agree with the union’s politics or don’t believe they’re getting good representation.

Republicans also say becoming a right-to-work state will attract businesses that don’t want to fight with unions, which they say are gaining too much power and money in the current system. That, in turn, is said to grow the economy.

Democrats say it weakens unions because it allows workers to receive representation without paying for it, and that it lowers wages and benefits because of weaker union representation.

Democrats also say right-to-work isn’t all that attractive to business and that the reduction in wages causes workers to spend less. That, in turn, is said to hurt the economy.

More elaborate versions of these arguments have been stated over the years, and there’s plenty of data to back up whichever argument you choose.

Republicans use that data to say right-to-work will save the economy. Democrats use that data to say right-to-work will cripple the economy.

Both of these answers are likely exaggerations. As far as the overall effect on the economy is concerned, the numbers tend to be less conclusive.

However, Gov. Eric Greitens signed right-to-work legislation, so we’ll soon have a chance to get a better view of the law’s impact.

Right-to-work will be one of many factors that alter our state’s economy over the next four years, but we should do our best to measure and review its effect.

We expect the governor and legislators to be honest with their interpretations of those effects, and we expect other community leaders - governmental, businesses, nonprofit and otherwise - to play a role in reviewing right-to-work.

That will involve using some existing data and adding our own. It will be important to understand the existing arguments on both sides. However, it does not mean we should seek confirmation of our biases and recycle the arguments we’ve heard in Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma and elsewhere.

Whether or not you think we need it, right-to-work is almost here. Our job now is to watch these changes with clear eyes and make future decisions for Missouri based on the effectiveness of this law.

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