U rallies for extra funding

by Kristin Gustafson

When the University sliced up its construction and renovation projects for the next two years, it did so after months of deliberation, consultation and debate.
So when Gov. Jesse Ventura’s budget allocated only one-third of the University’s request, most of the projects were left unfunded.
But the University has no plans to abandon its course.
“We still feel we have a strong package to bring to the Legislature,” said Donna Peterson, associate vice president of governmental relations.
The lack of funding does not, and will not, preclude the University from taking their case to legislators, Peterson said.
Still, Ventura’s budgeted $54 million is a “brutal reduction” from the $134.3 million the University needs for projects critical for programs on each campus, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.
Though the University’s percentage of the state’s bonding money is the same as in past years, this year’s amount is significantly less than the $245 million received in 1998 because the pie from which it was divided is significantly smaller.
If the money does not come through, the University must address two major concerns: rising construction costs for delayed projects and earmarked donor dollars moving away from the University.
“Construction costs are going up faster than inflation,” said Eric Kruse, University Services vice president. This could make today’s projects more expensive in the future.
Kruse and the Board of Regents’ Facilities Committee have spent months meeting with architects, academic leaders and finance experts for advice about each construction and renovation project.
“We felt we’ve put forward an extremely appropriate and defendable capital program that addresses our academic needs and initiatives,” Kruse said.
But even if the Legislature falls through this session, Kruse said, the planning efforts will not be lost.
Jessica Phillips, regent chairwoman of the Facilities Committee, said communication with the governor might improve the University’s predicament.
Ventura’s recent visit to Phillips’ committee meeting was a step in the right direction, but more talk is needed, she said.
“(Ventura) missed greater Minnesota entirely,” said Phillips, adding that the governor failed to address significant health code concerns for the West Bank Art Building.
“We’re not giving up,” she said.
University fund raising might also take a hit as a result of decreased state funding.
From the beginning, donors have said they do not want their gifts going to projects they feel should be supported by the Legislature, said Martha Douglas, University Foundation communications director.
Traditionally, the University picks up one-third of the state bonding debt for construction projects, and the state funds the remainder. Private donations make up a portion of the University’s amount.
“(Donors) want their private money to really make a difference, to give above,” said Judy Kirk, University Foundation campaign director.
To address their concerns and prevent donors from going elsewhere with their dollars, the University plans to educate donors on the legislative process and try to explain the bonding budget situation.
“These are tough dollars to raise,” Kirk said.

Kristin Gustafson covers administration and welcomes comments at [email protected]