Passage of budget leads to University improvements

by Coralie Carlson

Lawmakers approved a $36 million supplemental budget for the University Wednesday and sent the legislation to Gov. Arne Carlson’s desk.
University officials are excited about the measure, which provides nearly 90 percent of their original request.
“We’re delighted and pleased with the confidence and support of the legislature in this request,” said Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost.
After weeks of deadlock in conference committee, the bill passed 66-0 in the Senate and 99-34 in the House. In addition to the University’s allotment, the bill gives an equal amount to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and changes the state’s financial aid policies.
Carlson’s signature is the last stop before this bill becomes law. He has already pledged support.
“Higher education appears to be in good shape,” Carlson said at a press conference Tuesday.
Money from the supplemental bill will boost funding for classroom improvements, new equipment, hiring and compensating personnel. Digital technology and cellular and molecular biology initiatives will also benefit.
The legislation pumps an additional $1.5 million into the statewide work-study program. The bill advances a $13.5 million Pell Grant increase from the federal government from last year that needed state action before landing in students’ pockets. Pell Grants help 5,419 University students cover tuition and other school costs.
The $73 million package reverses recent trends, when supplemental budgets have provided minimal or negative amounts for higher education.
“During the last decade, if any group in the state of Minnesota has been the hardest hit, it has probably been education,” said Sen. Sam Solon, DFL-Duluth. “Hopefully in the future we can continue on this path.”
While Carlson voiced support for the supplemental bill, other University legislation tied up in the capital bonding and tax conference committees lies under threat of Carlson’s veto pen.
“Neither the bond bill nor the tax bill are on a course toward passage; changes will have to be made,” Carlson said at Tuesday’s conference.
The capital bonding bill funds building projects across Minnesota and includes the University’s $249 million request for campus construction and renovation. Funding disputes regarding a St. Paul hockey arena threaten the bill.