JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Eric Greitens proposed another round of cuts to public colleges and universities Monday during a budget announcement that also marked his first public appearance since acknowledging an extramarital affair nearly two weeks ago.
While unveiling a recommended $28.8 billion budget for the Fiscal Year that begins in July, the Republican governor said increased spending on health care "means we have to tighten up in other areas of government and spend less money." He cited growth in "administrative costs" at many universities while recommending a 10 percent reduction compared to the amount that higher education institutions originally were budgeted to get during the current year.
Greitens attempted to focus on the budget during the news conference at his Capitol office, but reporters repeatedly asked him about the affair that he first acknowledged Jan. 10 after a report by television station KMOV.
As was the case in a Saturday interview with the Associated Press, Greitens did not directly answer repeated questions from reporters Monday over whether there is any truth to allegations he took a partially nude photo of the woman. He said there was "no photograph for blackmail," one of the claims made in a secretly-recorded conversation between the woman and her then-husband.
Greitens described his annual spending plan as a "common-sense conservative budget."
"We're watching out for the tax dollars of the people of Missouri, making important investments in Missouri's future and also making the tough choices that are necessary to make sure that we don't burden Missouri's children with debt," he said.
However, Greitens faced immediate pushback from some lawmakers over the proposed cuts to higher education institutions. His 2019 budget plan would give colleges and universities $92 million less than originally budgeted for the 2018 Fiscal Year and $68 million less than they actually are expected to get based on cuts Greitens previously made to the 2018 budget.
"We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of students; they are the future workers and job creators Missouri desperately needs to cultivate," Columbia Republican Sen. Caleb Rowden said in a statement, adding he hopes to pass a budget that "better reflects Missourians' priorities."
Missouri's Medicaid program would grow to $11 billion under Greitens' budget — largely, Greitens said, because of federally mandated services.
Greitens' budget plan would provide more than $3.4 billion in basic aid for public K-12 schools. That's a $50 million increase, but it would still fall approximately $48 million short of what's considered full funding under state law, because it doesn't include all the additional money called for in preschool education programs, state budget director Dan Haug said.
"You're basically taking money away from our at-risk, vulnerable kids," said Linda Rallo, vice president of AlignED, a nonprofit education advocacy group of Missouri and Kansas business leaders that previously was known as the Alliance for Childhood Education.
The governor's budget plan also includes what Haug described as a first-of-a-kind proposal in Missouri to take out a short-term line of credit of up to $250 million. The borrowed money would be used to pay state income tax refunds more quickly. In recent years, the state has increasingly fallen behind on refunds, resulting in interest payments to some taxpayers.
Haug said the hope is the interest on the short-term loan would be about the same as the interest that would have been due taxpayers for slow refunds.