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U funding request likely to fall short

The goal of fully funding the University’s capital bonding request might be just out of reach, legislators said Tuesday.

As the May 17 deadline for concluding the session approaches, the capital investment committees in the State House and State Senate are trying to push through their versions of this year’s bonding bill.

Although both chambers support funding as much of the University’s $155.5 million request as possible, committee chairs said there are limitations on the amount the Legislature can recommend.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said higher education was the top priority for the Senate in the bonding bill.

“Higher education is the base,” he said. “We consider it without question to be the most important part of it.”

While Langseth said it would not be possible to fund all projects in the entire bonding bill – which also includes funding for health-care systems, public safety and construction and maintenance of many other public agencies – the Senate’s bill will be much closer to original requests than the governor’s bill.

Langseth said the University’s request was reasonable and he would like to fund 100 percent of it.

“But there are limitations on how far we can go,” he said. “We’re going to try to do most of it.”

He said Gov. Tim Pawlenty would like to cap the overall capital bonding bill at $688 million.

Rep. Doug Fuller, R-Bemidji, vice chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee, said the committee wanted to allocate more money to the University than the $76.6 million Pawlenty suggested in his proposal.

“The support is there to do more for higher education,” he said. “How much more will be the question.”

He said the committee will probably have to cut more than the $6 million the House Higher Education Finance Committee cut from the request.

Reductions from the House Higher Education Finance Committee were for the Carlson School of Management expansion and projects on the University’s Duluth and Morris campuses.

Fuller said higher education is a priority for the Capital Investment Committee, but there are other projects such as new prisons and road construction in the bonding bill this year that also need attention.

“We need to make sure we are not only taking care of the ‘U’ but making sure we have the prison space available for the bad guys,” he said.

But Fuller said he thought the University request was modest and reasonable.

The House must act on the capital bonding bill before the Senate, according to the state constitution, Langseth said. He said he has been waiting for the House committee to pass its bill for several weeks.

“Every week they are saying next week,” he said. “I wish the House would move because there is no point in us moving it when they have to pass it first.”

He said his committee has tentatively put its recommendations together but did not want to give details until after the House decided on its bill.

“We’re ready to go,” he said.

Langseth said there will probably be a couple million dollars difference between the Senate and House bills.

The differences would need to be addressed in a conference committee before the session ends.

Fuller said the House committee will most likely put forward their recommendation for the bonding bill within the week.

Pawlenty spokeswoman Liz Bogut said the governor will go along with whatever amount the Legislature sets for the University. But if the amount is higher than what he proposed, he would need to shift money from other areas to avoid the cap.

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