Missouri’s budget had set aside $1 million for disaster aid, but Gov. Jay Nixon quickly pledged $50 million for the Joplin tornado and southeast Missouri flooding, offsetting that with cuts to other government programs. The biggest chunk came from higher education, which already was slated for a 5.5 percent cut in the coming school year. Nixon deepened that cut to 7 or 8 percent, depending on the institution, and also reduced the amount of money lawmakers had budgeted for scholarships.
For the University of Missouri’s four-campus system, that means its state aid for the 2011-2012 school year will be 11 percent lower than in 2001, despite an enrollment increase of 39 percent during the past decade.
Eric Woods, student president of the Columbia campus, acknowledged the need for disaster assistance, but bemoaned that students now have to shoulder the burden for Missouri’s “crummy luck” with disasters.
“I think when you’re making a state choose between rebuilding after several natural disasters or funding their schools, there’s something not quite right about it,” said Woods, a senior majoring in political science, history and religious studies.
Among other things, Nixon also trimmed the budget for domestic violence grants by 15 percent, essentially continuing a cut from the previous year. That comes as the number of abused women and children seeking shelter at the Lafayette House in Joplin has more than doubled since the May 22 tornado, said Louise Secker, the organizations’ director of community services.
As the state rebuilds from its record disasters, recovery assistance is necessary and important. Yet Republican leaders such as Mitt Romney and Eric Cantor have said it is immoral and unacceptable to offer disaster assistance without other spending cuts, because “we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.”
Nixon’s choice to pay for tornado and flood assistance with funds for schools and abused mothers and children is just the latest example of how state budgets have declared war on the most vulnerable.