Legislature debates endowments

by Erin Ghere

and Amy Olson
Funding amounts recommended to conference committees Monday indicate the Academic Health Center might gain more than previously thought.
However, disagreements down party lines over how much endowments should receive has added a new uncertainty to the proceedings.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, handed maximum amounts to conference committees Monday, after talks between the two broke down.
But the amounts are not mutually agreed upon, Sviggum said.
Although it is unclear when the final decisions will be made, the legislative session ends next Monday and all bills must be voted on by then.
The target amount given to the Senate Health and Human Services committee reflects funds for a $900 million endowment, said Marty McDonough in the Office of State Relations.
However, the amounts given to the House committee chairs do not include funding for endowments, Sviggum said.
Gov. Jesse Ventura recommended creating endowments out of the state’s tobacco settlement, including a $350 million health professional education endowment. The health center would reap the benefits of the endowment’s interest, which would total $30 million over the next two years.
“As part of an agreement we were negotiating over last week, the House caucus was willing to accept some endowments,” Sviggium said.
After the breakdown Monday, he said they are no longer willing to accept the endowments.
“We thought we had a deal,” said Rep. Lee Greenfield, DFL-Minneapolis. Greenfield said Sviggum reneged on the agreement when he found out how much spending was left in the bill.
“I don’t know how much more we can get rid of,” Greenfield said, “but when it comes down to the wire, (Republicans) might have to capitulate.”
The final version of the bill will include an endowment of some sort, said Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd.
The University is unsure of how much of the Senate’s endowment target is intended for the Academic Health Center, McDonough said, although officials are confident the Legislature will fund part of their request.
Although the chance of the House supporting any endowments has been greatly diminished, Sviggium said the endowment House members would most likely support is the one benefitting the health center.
Jim McGreevy, a representative for Moe, confirmed that there had been movement toward a resolution on funding for the health center, but could not comment on specifics.
Any news is good news for the center, which, prior to Monday, was looking at receiving only a small portion of a $35 million request. However, Chris Roberts, spokeswoman for the health center, said so far all of the numbers are just speculation.
“We trust that the Legislature will make a thoughtful decision about the Academic Health Center,” she said.
The House had recommended giving $6 million without the formation of endowments. The Senate supported Ventura and created four endowments: medical education and research, tobacco prevention, health care fund, and senior prescription drugs.
The Senate had earmarked $1.3 million for endowments, of which slightly more than 20 percent would go toward medical education endowments, which would benefit the health center. Moe, Sviggum and Ventura had come close to some agreements over the weekend, but had not made any decisions.