JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced plans Thursday to freeze $22 million that had been budgeted for public schools and colleges because lawmakers failed to include enough money in a mid-year spending plan passed this week.
The Democratic governor had requested $44 million in January for K-12 and higher education to make up for shortfalls in gambling and lottery revenues. Lawmakers questioned whether the full amount would be needed and instead approved a budget bill with only half of the requested funding.
But Nixon said that wasn't enough, causing him to withhold $15.6 million for K-12 schools and $6.4 million in spending divided equally between community colleges and four-year universities.
"There is no reason our students shouldn't have gotten the resources they were promised," he said.
Nixon said lawmakers could make up for this year's shortfall by adding $22 million in education money in the 2015 budget, which is currently under consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream said lawmakers thought they had provided enough money to cover the education funding gap in this year's budget.
"We thought the $22 million was an accurate number based on the information we had," said Stream, R-Kirkwood.
He added that if they included Nixon's entire funding request, the state would have less money to spend in next year's budget. Nixon said he will monitor casino and lottery revenue throughout the year to determine if his restriction can be released.
A recent report from the Missouri Gaming Commission shows casino patronage decreased about 9 percent through the first seven months of the fiscal year compared with the same period the previous year.
State officials blame this year's cold, snowy weather for the revenue drop-off. They also have pointed to the recent economic downturn and increased competition, including a new casino across the state line in Kansas.
The Missouri School Boards Association said it was unfortunate that the Legislature was not able to provide adequate funding.
"This puts school boards and superintendents in the very difficult position of having to make budget adjustments in the short time remaining before the end of the fiscal year," association spokesman Brent Ghan said in a written statement.
Nixon also disagreed Thursday with the Senate budget-writing panel's decision to remove his proposed $4.6 million funding increase in next year's budget for the Children's Services Division, which investigates child abuse claims. Part of the money would have gone toward pay raises and a student loan forgiveness program for staff. The governor also had sought money to equip 1,500 staff with iPads, keyboards and car chargers and to ensure there was wireless Internet access in 124 offices.
The Senate committee did follow one of Nixon's recommendations to provide $347,000 for trauma and forensic training for Children's Division staff.
Nixon was critical of the Senate committee's decision to include $33 million in next year's budget for a new State Historical Society building.
"A budget that cuts funding to keep abused children safe, but adds funding to build a brand new government building does not reflect our priorities," he said.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schafer did not immediately return a message seeking comment.