Guest Column: Universities lending to states a bad idea

Michael Hardcastle

State budget shortfalls seem to be a recurring theme across the U.S.

However, governors are forced to think of increasingly creative ways to plug ever-widening holes, they must also stay grounded in reality to avoid dreaming up ridiculous proposals, like the one Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon did last month.

With a projected $750 million budget gap and higher education funding expected to take another heavy blow, Nixon considered asking five state universities for a $107 million, interest-free loan, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Nixon wisely decided to scrap the idea last week; however, it is not inconceivable that another state government might try a similar tactic — perhaps Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is no stranger to wildly unpopular education reform ideas.

In Scott’s defense, he may be shying away from such tactics. Over winter break, he experienced an “Ebenezer Scrooge-like” change of heart and demanded a $1 billion increase to education spending, threatening to veto any bill that doesn’t comply, according to the Miami Herald.

Scott, however, only called for an increase in K-12 funding. His plans for higher education remain to be seen and Florida faces a projected budget shortfall of $1.7 billion, according to the Herald.

Nixon’s tentative loan plan called for only five colleges to foot the $107 million loan using their reserve funds, which would be redistributed as part of the higher education budget to all Missouri’s four-year universities and community colleges.

Such a plan may be too liberal for Florida’s conservative governor, but the fact that such a foolish idea was seriously considered, though never officially proposed, is worrisome.

During budget slumps, higher education is hit just as hard, if not harder, than the rest of the state. Nixon’s plan would be like robbing the poor to give to the poor. The lending universities would have been repaid by funds diverted from the state’s college loan authority, money which was originally intended to finance university building projects, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Missouri State Rep. Ryan Silvey called the idea “ridiculous,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

“The governor is looking for this scheme that avoids making tough decisions on cuts,” he said. “Rather than balance the state’s budget, he wants to dream up new revenue sources, which happen to be interest-free loans from our universities.”

Unfortunately, higher education always seems to be on the chopping block when state cutbacks come around, and it will likely take some out-of-the-box thinking to bolster state budgets.

Though misguided, Nixon’s proposal was intended to save the Missouri higher education system from across-the-board cuts. However, even the most creative ideas must be held to the standards of reality and actually be helpful, rather than only seeming so.

The Oracle, U. South Florida via UWIRE. Read more here.