Leg. bills cut $36M from U budget

Gov. Tim Pawlenty originally proposed the budget cuts in February.

by James Nord

The state Legislature passed two different versions of a budget bill Monday, both of which would cut more than $36 million from the University of Minnesota. Lawmakers have long expected to make the cuts, which were proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in February to close a nearly $1 billion deficit for the rest of this budget period. Even so, lawmakers said the cuts were difficult to make. âÄúWeâÄôre asking students and families that are middle class and lower class to take a more significant burden, and thatâÄôs unfortunate,âÄù said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm. The effects of an additional $36 million in cuts would be compounded by a $105 million decrease in the UniversityâÄôs two-year budget enacted by the Legislature last spring. Pawlenty unallotted an additional $50 million from the UniversityâÄôs budget last June. University Vice President and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said the University has been working most of this academic year to address the cuts. He expects a balanced budget to be presented to the Board of Regents by early summer. âÄúItâÄôs another blow to the operating budget of âĦ the University, which is not a good thing,âÄù Pfutzenreuter said. âÄúParticularly in this economic climate, itâÄôs unfortunate that weâÄôve got to cut back.âÄù He said University academic and support units are working to cut budgets by an additional 2.75 percent, on top of an average 5.5 percent cut already made. The University is currently reviewing how academic programs will be refined to meet the shortfall. However, Pfutzenreuter said he understood the Legislature was faced with âÄúawful choicesâÄù on what to cut, stemming from a lack of revenue. Minnesota Student Association President Paul Strain said it is fortunate the UniversityâÄôs budget wasnâÄôt cut below 2006 levels. If the Legislature would have cut further, the state would not have been eligible to receive federal stimulus funds for the University. However, he said he is concerned with the effects the cuts will have on students, faculty and tuition. âÄúItâÄôs clear that the rising tuition cost and the lack of state support go hand in hand,âÄù Strain said. An amendment voted down in the Senate bill would have forced a reduction in collegesâÄô administrative budgets by 10 percent. Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said she would consider the reduction in a separate higher education bill. Sertich also said funding from state grants could be provided in a future higher education bill to make up some of the cuts. The UniversityâÄôs woes are only a portion of the overall spending axed. Both bills would cut over $300 million, about a third of the stateâÄôs deficit, from its budget; the HouseâÄôs version passed 80-51 and the SenateâÄôs 43-23. To correct the rest of the budget deficit, the Legislature will consider a pair of additional funding bills this session. The House and Senate will now work to rectify the differences in their respective bills. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said that although the governor is disappointed one unified bill wasnâÄôt passed, his office would consider working with any of the LegislatureâÄôs bills.