Senate override cements U cuts

by K.C. Howard

When University accountants go to the bank in July they will find $23.6 million less than what they anticipated this summer.

The Senate cemented the cut Thursday, when it voted 60-7 to override the governor’s veto of a budget reduction bill, which rid the state of a $1.95 billion state deficit.

But legislators have not put down their scissors yet. While Republicans and Democrats say they hope to keep the University off the chopping block, they still have $336 million of budget shaving to do.

“We have to make sure the $23.6 million is the end of the line,” said University President Mark Yudof. “They could try to assign another portion of that to the University, and if they do, it could be terribly difficult for us.”

Yudof said program cuts would absorb two-thirds to three-fourths of the reduction. But he said tuition could also jump a couple of percentage points.

The Board of Regents voted in June to raise tuition 13.2 percent for the 2002-03 school year on top of a 13.8 percent increase this year.

“I wish I could tell the students that it wouldn’t be two or three points above that, but it could be,” Yudof said.

Primarily, cuts will come from taxes on individual colleges, Yudof said.

System-wide, college deans have been saving nickels and dimes and avoiding filling staff and faculty positions to gear up for what they knew would be a fiscally tight school year.

But Yudof said students and employees won’t see the lion’s share of the cuts until next year.

“We were hoping for 6 percent raises Ö I don’t know if we can stick to that or not,” Yudof said. “This is going to be painful, but tuition will be the last resort to balance the budget, and it will be a small share of the $23.6 million if it occurs.”

The total cut in state funding turns out to be a 1.75 percent decrease in the anticipated $679 million of state money slated for University coffers in fiscal year 2002.

Legislators are working this week on “phase two” of budget cuts, and policy leaders from the House and Senate have given their word not to increase further cuts to higher education.

“We have a responsibility to do the second part of the forecast,” said Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, chairwoman of the higher education finance committee. “We have a $400 million-plus problem, but I’m quite certain the Senate will not put that to be born by education.”

House leaders could not get their representatives to cooperate and override Gov. Jesse Ventura’s veto of the bill without committing to try to leave education alone after these initial cuts.

“I never heard anything that was specifically promised,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, who voted against the override twice. “But there were comments made by leadership in both caucuses that there would be no further cuts into education.”

But these whispered promises give little hope to University officials weary of the current economic situation.

“It’s never over,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, vice president of the University’s Office of Budget and Finance. “I think we’ve given enough.”

The University will have a better idea of how the cuts will hit in approximately 30 days, Pfutzenreuter said.

He and other University officials are on the prowl for fiscal fat, but both say there is little to be found.

“I can’t be optimistic that we’re going to find some easy cut that has virtually no impact on students,” Yudof said. “We’re looking, but we haven’t seen it yet.”

K.C. Howard welcomes comments at [email protected]