Senate committee reduces proposed higher ed cuts

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Amid dissension, the state Senate Education Committee passed a proposal Friday that might save the University $8 million in cuts this legislative session.

By the committee’s recommendation, the University would have to drop $25 million from its operating budget. Under Gov. Jesse Ventura’s budget proposal, the University would have to cut $33 million in 2002-03.

But senators from both parties expressed concern they weren’t allowed to provide for less dramatic University funding reductions.

“I think the cuts should be $0 at the University of Minnesota and $0 at (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities),” said Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud. “This is not the time to cut higher education, when we’re looking at a lot of layoffs in the state.”

The Higher Education Budget Division chairwoman, the Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, will present the recommendations as a bill to the full Senate on Monday. The finance committee will review the bill in its meeting Wednesday.

Members of the Legislature said they hope to reconcile their divisions on the state’s operating budget within the next two weeks, forcing legislators to make quick decisions on money allocation.

“We’re losing $3.5 million each week we don’t have a budget,” Wiener said. “It’s our obligation to act quickly and to act swiftly.”

Representatives from the University, MnSCU and the Higher Education Services Office presented scenarios to the legislators explaining how cuts could affect the institutions.

“We’ve raised tuition, which is not easy on students,” said University President Mark Yudof. “It’s a myth to think there’s an easy solution.”

David Boyd, executive director of the Student Legislative Coalition, also attended the meeting to answer legislators’ questions.

“Twenty-five million is better than $33 million,” Boyd said. “I don’t care how you feel about spending tax money; without the University the state does not have an economy.”

Many senators are hoping to decrease the University’s cut before it reaches conference committee. The House bill – which is in the drafting stages – might include less money for higher education than the Senate version.

“It doesn’t make sense to cut any money from higher education,” Yudof said. “But I understand you need to cut somewhere.”

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said he was disappointed with the committee’s recommendation and will continue to fight for more money for higher education.

“We’ve done some really good things,” Murphy said. “I hate to see us put our train of progress into reverse.”