Five public universities have been told by the Nixon Administration that planned capital improvements on their campuses likely will be scuttled.
Letters were sent by Commissioner of Administration, Kelvin Simmons, to the University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University in Springfield, The University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau and Truman State University in Kirksville. Each letter informs the various campuses that expected funding from the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MoHELA) assets might not be forthcoming. The letters state that MoHELA has not been able to make its scheduled payments into the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative Fund, through which the capital improvements were to be paid.
The Office of Administration sent the letters via overnight mail and hand-delivered copies to state representatives and senators with affected campuses in their districts.
Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) received a letter at mid-morning. He says the action comes as a surprise.
"This is the same governor that last Thursday said, ‘I won’t cut higher education. I won’t do any withholds.’ And yet, to me, this is a real disservice to higher education across the state," Pearce tells the Missourinet.
Pearce says the action will have a drastic impact on the University of Central Missouri, putting the skids on a project that now totals $20 million. Pearce says UCM was to receive $10 million in Lewis and had raised $2 million in private funding. Also, the university students had approved a fee increase to raise another $8 million to renovate the Morrow and Garrison buildings, turning the aging buildings into a health science center. Pearce says the project is well underway and that the buildings have already been gutted.
A letter sent to University of Missouri Vice President of Finance and Administration, Nikki Krawitz, informs Krawitz that a $31 million appropriation for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia has been suspended indefinitely. Simmons writes that the project, and others, "will not be reinstated to active consideration unless and until you receive further written notice from my office."
Similar wording is used for separate letters to officials at the other campuses. The letters also warn the campuses that no expenditures will be reimbursed unless authorized in writing by the Office of Administration.
The Lewis and Clark Initiative was a pet project of former Governor Matt Blunt. Governor Nixon has been a harsh critic of the program from the beginning. He attempted to stop the sale of MoHELA assets as Attorney General and claimed Blunt was diverting MoHELA assets from their intended purpose: financing low-interest college loans. Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, Nixon avoided directly answering what he would do with the MoHELA projects authorized during the Blunt Administration.