U’s budget: Houses closer to compromise

by Chris Vetter

Legislators seemed unlikely to reach an agreement on the University’s 1998-99 budget by late Monday night, but it did appear the school will get more funding than Gov. Carlson has recommended.
Both House and Senate committee members moved closer to a compromise in Monday’s meetings.
The most recent Senate compromise bill that was offered late Thursday would give the University a $147.7 million increase. This figure is above the Senate’s original $132 million funding level and is now above Carlson’s $145.8 million proposal for the University.
Committee members are still about $12 million apart in their funding proposals for the University, but have narrowed the gap by $27 million since negotiations began.
House committee members, who favor giving more money directly to the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, reduced their request for the University to a $159 million increase in funding. The original House bill proposed to give the University a $171 million increase.
Monday marked the sixth day of conference committee meetings, which have taken longer than expected because of different views about how financial aid should be funded.
The latest House compromise bill would give the Higher Education Services Office a $20 million increase, far short of the office’s $65 million request. The Senate bill offers the office $53 million.
While many issues still remain unresolved, the committee has worked out differences in funding certain items. House members agreed to kill a measure criticized by Carlson that would have given the University’s political science department an endowed chair.
“The $1.6 million for an endowed chair in the House bill is unacceptable,” Carlson wrote to the committee last week. “The state should not be in the business of funding individual endowments.”
While the chair was removed, the committee approved the Minnesota Agriculture Education Leadership Council, which would attempt to increase interest in agricultural education among high school students in the state.
The council would have 17 members, comprised of legislators, agriculture business leaders and three University representatives. They include one member of the Board of Regents, the chair of the University’s agricultural education program and the dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences.
The measure includes $1 million in funding for the University to pay for the council and to attract high school students to the University’s agricultural education programs.
Besides settling on final funding figures, the committee has several other measures to finish.
The two savings programs, dubbed Gopher State Bonds and EdVest, are tied to financial aid funding, which has been the major sticking point of the conference committee. Those items will likely be completed last.
Another unfinished measure is funding for the University’s women’s hockey and tennis court facility. The Legislature gave the University $7 million for the facility in a bonding bill last year. University officials have requested another $3 million to complete the project, which will be built adjacent to Mariucci Arena where the tennis courts currently are.
The House version and Carlson both support giving the University the funding, with the University having to pay back $1 million in two increments in the future. The Senate bill contains no money for the project.
Barring an 11th-hour Monday night agreement, the committee will re-convene today.