Missouri Gov. Mike Parson froze $176 million in state spending Wednesday, bracing the state for a big revenue shortfall amid the coronavirus-induced downturn.
State colleges and universities took the biggest blows: four-year institutions will lose $61.3 million and community colleges will lose $11.6 million, a cut of roughly 8 percent in state funding if distributed equally among the schools.
The governor also froze $54 million slated to go toward repairs and maintenance of state facilities, halted $12 million going into a fund for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and cut $6.4 million for the state tourism office.
In a news conference Wednesday, Parson said the cuts were absolutely necessary at a time when the state is staring down a $500 million deficit for the current fiscal year and having to marshal millions of dollars to buy protective gear for frontline responders.
"This is the right thing to do to make sure our budget is balanced and that we are financially prepared to deal with the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19," he said.
Parson said he was "hopeful" the state could use $315 million in federal aid to help with the shortfall, but said "doing so still may not be enough to solve the problem."
The decision came as no surprise to Springfield college leaders.
MSU President Clif Smart, whose school will lose $7.6 million over the next three months, said he knew cuts were coming and that the university had prepared by freezing hiring and cutting discretionary spending down to "almost nothing."
He said the university would also see savings with in-person classes suspended, many buildings closed and many employees working remotely.
“There is no travel going on, supply use is substantially less, there are no conferences to attend,” he said. “Utilities will go down because most of our buildings are closed and we’ve adjusted the thermostats."
That won't be enough to cover the loss of money from the state and other virus-related costs, though. The university is also on the hook to refund $3.5 million in housing after closing all but two of the residence halls to students and $1 million in refunds for meal plans.
Smart said MSU will make up the difference with reserves and some of the $14 million in federal aid the school expects. It's not clear when that federal money will arrive, though, and a significant portion will go to student financial aid.
Similar plans were in place at Ozarks Technical Community College.
Like Smart, OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon said he’d been expecting the news for weeks given the state of the economy.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of holes in the budget to cut,” Higdon said, “and as usual, higher ed takes the brunt of it.”
OTC also left unfilled positions open, slowed down spending and cut out all travel to prepare. The college will dip into reserves and be fine day-to-day, Higdon said, adding that he did not anticipate having to furlough or lay off employees, Higdon said.
He was disappointed that higher education took the biggest hit while K-12 education was unscathed, though.
“Community colleges are just as important as K-12 education,” he said. “We’re hoping that if there’s any further cuts, they would be across the board, not just bearing mostly on higher ed.”
Money for the state’s new Fast Track scholarships will also be cut in half, a savings of $5 million.
The scholarships were a top priority for Parson last year and are intended to help adults go back to school and get better jobs.
It’s not clear what the change will mean for the future of the program, but a spokesman at OTC, which has more Fast Track students than any other school, didn't expect existing grants to be reduced.
Spokesman Mark Miller said 42 Fast Track students are currently enrolled and have received roughly $61,000 in total.
"There should be plenty of money left," he said.
Elsewhere, the University of Missouri system anticipated a $36.5 million loss.
In a news release, UM System President Mun Choi said he appreciated everything that elected officials are doing in an "unprecedented time" and said the system was also taking "thoughtful but necessary actions."
Like MSU and OTC, the system has also frozen hiring and merit increases and put a hold on other non-essential spending, according to a public letter Choi sent to staff.
The UM System will also see funding slashed for multiple projects, including $2.4 million going toward its prized "precision medicine" center under construction in Columbia.