Candidates discuss financial aid issue

Coralie Carlson

The winner of Minnesota’s race for the governor’s seat will determine more than tax levels and new stadiums. He can also lower tuition for University students.
The three major candidates following this month’s primary election — Democrat Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III, Republican Norm Coleman and Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura — hold different plans for the future of state-supported financial aid and University funding.
Humphrey proposed a $1,000 tax credit for lower- and middle-income students. Humphrey’s tax break would piggyback the similar federal HOPE scholarship, for a combined annual $2,500 bonus for students and their families for two years.
“People are excited about it because it goes far beyond what anyone has ever proposed for higher education and it makes higher education a reality for many students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to do so,” said Tammy Lee, Humphrey’s spokeswoman.
A similar tax credit was proposed last year in the state Legislature, but Gov. Arne Carlson halted the plan because it committed too much money on an ongoing basis.
Humphrey will fund the tax credit with the proceeds from the tobacco settlement and the budget surplus.
Humphrey also singled out two higher education agencies, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the Higher Education Services Office, as organizations to streamline. But reviewing these programs does not necessarily mean cutting or reducing, Lee said.
Coleman also proposed tax breaks, but not specifically for students.
“In terms of financial incentives, Norm Coleman believes an overall income tax reduction is best for students and parents,” said Cyndy Brucato, Coleman’s spokesperson. “Really, it would be a much better use of everyone’s money.”
Brucato said Coleman would concentrate on strengthening elementary and secondary schools so colleges would not have to spend as much time and resources on remedial classes. Institutions like the University’s General College would then become unnecessary, she said.
Regarding University funding, Coleman’s budget allows for incremental increases to compensate for inflation — a step overlooked by Humphrey, Brucato said.
“Humphrey has robbed Peter to pay Paul,” Brucato said, because the Humphrey plan includes a generous financial aid initiative but will leave fewer funds for the University overall.
The Humphrey staff responded that their budget does account for enrollment and inflation, but not the full amount of inflation traditionally incorporated in budgets.
Ventura, the Reform Party candidate, also disagrees with the Humphrey tax credit plan.
“If you were going to pay for college, I would prefer to pay for the last two years,” Ventura said, explaining that many underclassmen go to college intending to party, not graduate.
He stressed that motivated students could find ways to pay for college without state funding, like taking night classes while holding a job or enrolling in a community college and later transferring to a larger school like the University.
“I support student loans and that, but I also think that if you’re qualified and intelligent enough to go to college then you ought to be smart enough to get through it, shouldn’t you?” he said.
Ventura said he always has to remind people that government spending is simply redistributing money. In order to spend money on student loans, the government has to take that money from someone else.
While Ventura said he would hold the status quo when confronted with University funding issues, he deplored the bureaucracy of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
“MnSCU is horrible,” Ventura said. “It’s bureaucratic, awful. Yeah, it’s a lot of wasted money, I think.”
University faculty are also keeping a close eye on the candidates and their proposals.
“During the campaign, it’s very hard to ask a candidate, ‘How much money are you going to give us?'” said Marvin Marshak, physics professor and former senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
“What I’m looking for is, does this person have an understanding of the potential of the University to really improve the lives of the people of Minnesota?” Marshak said. “If the person has that, then I think the rest will follow.”