KIRKSVILLE, Mo. — A letter sent to all University of Missouri—Columbia students yesterday in an attempt to engage them in the much-debated income tax bill has drawn some eyes from both sides of the issue.
Missouri Student Association President Nick Droege penned a letter to the student body expressing his concerns about the potential impact that House Bill 253 could have on higher education if Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill overridden. The concerns are similar to what the governor has discussed during his trip around the state the last few months.
“As one of the few areas of the budget unprotected by law, higher education in Missouri is the inevitable loser in this new equation,” Droege writes, going on to list a potential 4 percent cost increase for textbooks and a 16 percent tuition hike for Mizzou students. That 16 percent tuition hike, Droege wrote, was announced by UM System President Tim Wolfe as a potential result of cuts to education, according to the governor, if the veto is overridden.
The letter provides students, faculty and press with the chance to hear from Droege, Wolfe and Chancellor Brady Deaton at 5 p.m. Sept. 5 in the Student Center.
“My job, being elected by the students, is to always have their best interests in mind,” Droege told The Missouri Times about why he chose to write the letter. “When I found out that if this veto is override it could have anywhere from an 8 to 16 percent tuition increase, I had to bring it to their attention.”
Droege said he made the decision in the best interest of the students, and is prepared for any accompanying criticism.
Matthew Wills, Missouri Republican Party Communications Director, said while he appreciates Droege brining students into the political discussion, he is “concerned that only one side is being represented.”
“When you’re in a position like he’s in, it’s your duty not to be a cheerleader for one side over another, but provide both sides and let people decide,” Wills said. “I definitely think there’s a mechanism or organization behind the effort.”
Wills said there are regularly scheduled meetings with state GOP members visiting campuses to talk with College Republicans, and the next Mizzou meeting is during next week’s CR meeting with Party Executive Director Shane Schoeller. The hope, Wills said, is to fire up the student base on all statewide issues.
As far as Droege’s student body meeting, Wills said he “would be interested to go and see what exactly is said and who is saying it,” specifying that he would like to know “which group (the governor, Coalition for Missouri’s Future, etc.) the talking points align with.”
Also in the letter, Droege suggested an action that students can take to express concerns or ask questions would be to contact the local state representative, Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, who voted for HB 253 during its initial passage.
Rowden, like Wills, lauded Droege’s engaged effort with the political process, however, he too had concerns about the message.
“Unfortunately, [Droege] seems misinformed by the lies and half truths Gov. Nixon has been deceiving Missourians with over these past few months,” Rowden said. “After speaking with University officials today, I can say with 100 percent certainty President Wolfe never said an override of HB 253 would be directly responsible for a 16 percent tuition increase. The scenario President Wolfe was referencing was a far-fetched scenario if the U.S. Congress were to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act this year, which all parties involved in this debate know is not going to happen.”
Rowden said he plans to attend the Sept. 5 meeting to “discuss the realities of HB 253 and not just the talking points and rhetoric currently dominating the conversation.”
“Regardless of the outcome of HB 253, I look forward to working with President Wolfe and the great staff at Mizzou to move our fine institution forward in the years to come,” he added.
Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.