Health center’s budget suffers under omnibus

by Erin Ghere

If a House committee recommendation is any indication, the University will get money for most of its priorities, like boosting faculty pay and enriching undergraduate education. But recommendations for the Academic Health Center fell $31 million short of administrators’ hopes.
The House higher education committee approved the higher education finance omnibus bill on Friday. The bill, which is up for approval by the full House on Friday, allotted the University $118 million.
The sum is $80 million less than what University President Mark Yudof requested; the largest gap in funding falls on the health center, which would receive only $6 million of a $37 million request.
“It is really troublesome that the House has not supported the Academic Health Center,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.
The Senate higher education committee is still in the process of writing its budget recommendation. The University won’t see any money until Gov. Jesse Ventura signs a bill approved by both chambers, which will likely happen in late May.
Overall, University officials are pleased with the budget proposal, said Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost.
“We’re pleased with the level and nature of support in the House bill,” Bruininks said.
The House recommendation greatly supported two of the University’s initiatives: enhancing education for undergraduates and increasing faculty and staff pay.
“There is a strong relation between the priorities in the House bill and the priorities in the University’s request,” Bruininks said.
But the governor’s budget recommendation — which totaled $121 million for the University — allotted $35 million to the Academic Health Center. Of that, $30 million was slated to come from an endowment funded with money from the tobacco settlement.
Endowments are not part of the House’s plan. The Republican majority in the House would rather use the money for rebates to citizens.
But University officials are concerned. “We believe it is absolutely essential to support (the University’s) leadership in research and teaching clinics,” at the Academic Health Center, Bruininks said.
For the time being, the health center’s forecast “doesn’t look great,” but administrators are still hopeful, said Marty McDonough, Capitol lobbyist for the Academic Health Center.
“Negotiating is a big part of it,” he said. “We’re happy to be involved in discussions with both the House and the Senate.”
Although the Senate has not finished its draft of the higher education bill, they are more in line with the governor in terms of endowments.
The friction caused by different priorities in the House, the Senate and the governor’s mansion on the tobacco settlement will lead to debate throughout the next five weeks, the last of this legislative session.
This friction will make the last few days of the session interesting, said Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, chairwoman of the House higher education committee.
“The Governor, Senate and House all have different ideas about what to do with the (tobacco settlement),” she said.