The University of Missouri System will permanently lose the $37 million withheld from its state support under the budget plan unveiled Saturday in the Missouri House.
All higher education institutions will see their budgets cut by the amount Gov. Mike Parson withheld in the first round of state budget cuts in response to COVID-19-induced economic crash.
Overall, budget bills released online Saturday by the Missouri House plan for spending $483 million less general revenue than Parson proposed in January. The House will meet starting Monday to debate the spending plan with an expected final vote Wednesday.
The second-largest piece from higher education will be taken from Missouri State University in Springfield, which will see its appropriations cut by $8.4 million to $116.9 million.
The UM System is already preparing for layoffs and budget cuts of up to 12.5 percent to academic operations.
“It is bad,” said state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia and the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “It is going to be tough on higher education, to have money withheld that late, and entering a fiscal year with significant core cuts will be very problematic.”
All state colleges and universities canceled in-person classes and moved instruction online in mid-March. The economic uncertainty created by the loss of 388,000 jobs in Missouri in four weeks and 26 million nationwide means this is probably not the time for schools to use recently granted authority to increase tuition more than inflation, Kendrick said.
Governing boards can increase tuition by up to 5 percent above inflation if state support is cut.
“Doing significant tuition increases this year could have a chilling effect on enrollment, a more chilling effect than may be in play right now,” Kendrick said.
Lawmakers will return to work with one week left on the statewide stay-at-home order issued by Parson. The daily average of new COVID-19 infections found in the state has fallen for the second consecutive week, to 187 from 213, and many of the new cases are in hotspots associated with institutions or workplaces with large numbers of employees.
The state daily report of new coronavirus infections on Saturday was slightly above that average, showing 201 new cases, bringing the count of all confirmed infections since March 7 to 6,826. The state reported another 11 deaths Saturday, bringing the total to 273.
The Cargill plant in Saline County will be closed until May 4 after an outbreak at that meat-packing facility, KMMO radio reported. There have been 143 confirmed infections found in the county, an increase of 89 in a week.
In a post Saturday on Facebook, the Saline County Health Department asked for 400 residents to sign up for COVID-19 testing Tuesday and Wednesday. The state is starting to do mass testing in hotspots, and people who do not have symptoms can sign up.
And in St. Joseph, Triumph Foods spokesman Chris Clark said all 2,800 employees of its plant will be tested, even those showing no symptoms.
“Given the variability in symptoms experienced, this is an important step to prevent the spread in the workplace and the community,” the company said in a statement.
With an infection rate of 628 per 100,000 people, Saline County has the highest infection rate in the state.
Even with the outbreak in Saline County and the reporting Thursday of 19 new cases at a prison in southeast Missouri, the majority of new cases daily continue to occur in the St. Louis metro area.
On Saturday, 139 of the 201 new cases were in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. The largest number of new cases outside the St. Louis area was the inclusion of the 19 prison infections on the count for Mississippi County.
There have been coronavirus infections found in 99 of the state’s 117 local health department jurisdictions and deaths in 33 counties.
On Saturday, the Columbia-Boone County Health Department reported no new cases and 92 total infections confirmed by testing since mid-March. There are five active cases, with 86 people recovered and one death. State data shows 98 infections have been found among Boone County residents.
In Greene County, the state count showed a declined of one on Saturday to 83.
The state budget plan at the beginning of the year was for general revenue spending to total about $10 billion. Parson said Friday that the working number for cuts for the year that begins July 1 is $700 million. One additional area of savings is the annual appropriation for building maintenance, about $87 million.
The budget includes one potential bright spot for higher education. There is an appropriation for each institution from federal COVID-19 relief funds if the money can be spent to support college and university operations.
The amount set aside for the UM System is $138.7 million and the amount for Missouri State is $31.4 million.
Schools should not hold out much hope for the money, Kendrick said. The guidance from the federal government bars states from using COVID-19 relief funds to replace lost revenue.
The budget plan is built on the assumption that state general revenue will fall by about $1 billion in the coming year. But that is dependent on the economy rebounding and no additional closures if a new outbreak sweeps the state or nation, Kendrick said.
If the recovery is slow, the state could be facing a deficit larger than $1 billion, he said.
“If there is no additional federal money, I assume that additional withholds will be needed if this budget is passed as is,” Kendrick said.
In other news about the pandemic in Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Friday that St. Louis-area hospitals are approaching an expected peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
St. Louis-area hospitals have have discharged more than 1,000 coronavirus patients but the number of inpatients continues to rise.
"We're still not on the downward side of the slope," Garza said.
And the Missouri State Highway Patrol is reporting a dangerous trend on roads and highways left wide open by the shutdown tied to the coronavirus outbreak: People speeding at extraordinarily fast levels.
Patrol officials told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that at least once a day during the outbreak, motorists are being caught traveling faster than 100 mph.
Authorities say triple-digit speeding normally leads to an arrest and a trip to jail. But fear about spreading the virus in jail means that the highway patrol isn’t arresting even the worst of the speeding offenders. Instead, they are given a summons to appear in court.
The patrol says the top speed troopers have seen during the outbreak was someone traveling at 145 mph in Ray County on April 17.
The pandemic, while seemingly easing in Missouri, is continuing to infect more Americans at a steady rate of about 29,000 people a day, up slightly from the average for the previous week. Deaths averaged almost 2,200 a day during the past week.
As of Saturday afternoon, the U.S. had more than 929,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up about39,200 since Friday.
T0he contagion is blamed for 53,280 deaths in the United States.
Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected almost 2.9 million people and is blamed for more than 202,00 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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