House set to vote on major funding for U

The House proposal would give the University about $32 million less than the Senate bill.

by Jim Hammerand

The state House is set to grant the University close to three-fifths of the requested amount for capital improvements by taking on $121 million in debt for the University system.

The House Ways and Means Committee sent the omnibus capital investment bill to a floor vote Monday afternoon, but University officials said they hope the final figures will resemble more closely those of the Senate.

The House proposal would give the University about $32 million less than the Senate bill. University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter called the Senate funding “much better.”

“We asked for what we need, and the ultimate numbers are probably a tad low compared to what I think we typically get,” Pfutzenreuter said.

The University requested $206 million from the state this year to be used in conjunction with $63 million in University funds to maintain existing buildings and build new facilities.

New building projects include a $60 million biomedical sciences building, a $40 million Carlson School of Management expansion and $62 million to build a sciences teaching and Student Services center where the Science Classroom Building now stands.

“The sooner that old Science Classroom Building on the river is gone, the better off everybody’s going to be,” Pfutzenreuter said. “With the House bill, it’d be two or three years before we could get to that.”

The University also requested $80 million from the state for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement. University officials said they would use these funds to preserve buildings across the University system, with repairs slated for the University’s Duluth, Crookston and Morris campuses, in addition to the Twin Cities campus.

The Senate already passed its capital investment bill after a 59-6 vote and now waits for the House to pass a companion bill. The two bills would be combined into one in a conference committee and both bodies would vote one last time on the bill. If passed, the bill then would go to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to be signed into law.

Sen. Keith Langseth, Capital Investment Committee chairman, said state senators were eager to get the bills matched up and passed.

“We’ve been ready to go for a long time. I was hoping we’d have it on the governor’s desk before Easter, but the House had other ideas,” said Langseth, DFL-Glyndon.

Both chambers already have agreed to fund the biomedical sciences building at the requested amount, but did not fund more than $40 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, which Pfutzenreuter called “disappointing.”

Bill sponsor Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, who is also the House Capital Investment Committee chairman, said his bill would be put to a floor vote as soon as Wednesday morning. He said he didn’t expect the bill to spend more than a few weeks in conference.

The two chambers have not agreed yet on a target budget, which could present a “roadblock that could potentially screw us up,” Dorman said.

“When that comes back from conference committee, thank God, we’ll pass it and go home,” Dorman said.