While the budget approved last week by the Missouri House cuts funding for the state’s public colleges and universities, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hope some of those cuts can be restored this summer. And two key lawmakers from different parties are calling on the Senate to restore funding for the UM System’s top priority, which is a major health initiative.

The $34.9 billion state operating budget approved by the House on Wednesday includes cuts to the state’s public colleges and universities. House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, addressed the issue on the floor on Wednesday, telling colleagues that all public two and four-year schools would receive a ten percent reduction over what was appropriated last year, under the budget.

Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, speaks about the budget on the House floor in Jefferson City on April 29, 2020 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

“I realize that this causes consternation across the General Assembly, and it’s not an easy thing to do,” Smith says. “But again we’re looking at a tremendously difficult budgetary outlook year.”

Chairman Smith says it’s possible that state lawmakers will be called back for a special session this summer, and says that if additional federal funding comes down, he’d like to see the money restored.

“It will be a conversation that we will need to talk about at that time, if we have some additional federal money to spend, or if we are able to reallocate some general revenue,” says Smith.

The Carthage Republican says the House may be called to return to Jefferson City this summer, for supplemental budgets.

Meantime, State Reps. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, and Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, are calling on the Senate to restore about $700,000 in cuts to Mizzou’s NextGen Precision Health initiative. The NextGen Precision Health Institute, which is under construction, is expected to train the next generation of scientists who will help Missouri address future health care needs.

The $220 million facility is the UM System’s top capital priority. Mizzou says researchers in areas like medicine and engineering will work in the institute, to advance lifesaving research.

Representative Razer, a Mizzou graduate who is the ranking Democrat on the House Higher Education Committee, announced on the floor Wednesday that someone in his immediate family has just been diagnosed with cancer.

Razer predicts the facility will accelerate medical breakthroughs.

“This is truly a space that can cure cancer. They have the capability of curing cancer at the University of Missouri,” Razer says.

Razer tells the House that the UM System requested $10 million from the state. Governor Mike Parson’s budget recommendation reduced that to $3 million, and as of now, lawmakers have it at $0. Razer wants to see the Senate restore some funding.

Representative Walsh, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on transportation, is also a Mizzou graduate. She spoke on the floor after Razer, proposing using $729,000 originally intended for Fort Leonard Wood’s airport. She notes that money will lapse and won’t be needed at Fort Leonard Wood for another year.

“And that is money that I believe is a good purpose for it to be put to use for the precision medicine initiative,” says Walsh, whose district includes part of Columbia.

Walsh announced on the floor that she is working with Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, to partially restore some of the cuts to the NextGen Precision Health initiative and to Boone County Task Force One, which is a Columbia-based search-and-rescue team. She says she supports utilizing state revenues most effectively, to help ease the pain being felt now.

Mizzou says the institute will play a key role in the NextGen Precision Health Initiative, which supports the research activities of the UM System’s four campuses and health system.

University leaders broke ground on the institute last June.

“The NextGen Precision Health Initiative will help bring us bring laboratory research to effective treatments, which will benefit all Missourians as well as the rest of the world,” UM System President Dr. Mun Choi said at the 2019 groundbreaking ceremony.

The institute is being funded through a combination of private and corporate support, state support and contributions from Mizzou and the UM System.

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