U continues to lobby for $61 million in projects

The request, which includes funds for the Translational Research Facility, was vetoed once before by Jesse Ventura.

by Paul Sand

Despite concern that state lawmakers will not pass a supplemental capital bonding budget this session, University officials said they will continue to push for their $61 million request.

The University’s request contains six projects vetoed last May by former Gov. Jesse Ventura, including $37 million in funding for the Translational Research Facility, $8 million for renovations to Jones Hall and $3 million to design the Institute of Technology Teaching and Technology Center.

Legislators can pass a bill authorizing bonds for capital improvements or construction of public property, usually in the second year of the budget biennium.

The University makes capital bonding requests to the state on projects such as academic buildings where there are no revenue streams.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the Senate Capital Investment Committee has moved the bonding issue forward, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the House do not seem interested in appropriating money for a capital bonding bill.

“Things are not looking good,” he said.

The governor also recommended a $185 million state funding reduction for the University in 2004-05. State money is used to support the University’s central operations.

Pfutzenreuter said lawmakers hopefully will look at the request after sorting out the University’s operating request.

“These projects are ready to go, and by delaying them they only get more expensive,” he said.

The combination of low interest rates and a soft construction market make now a good time to bond and build, Pfutzenreuter said.

“It was a lot different three years ago when construction was just booming. It has really plummeted since that high point, and people are a lot hungrier for the work,” he said.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said while no decision on a capital bonding bill has been made in the House, it is unlikely that all projects would be included.

“If we do a bonding bill, and heavy on the word ‘if,’ it would only be certain projects that were vetoed by Governor Ventura last year,” Sviggum said.

Sviggum said the House will not pass a bill as large as the Senate’s current proposal, which calls for $357 million in state bonding. The University would receive more than $48 million.

“We certainly will not do a bonding bill of that size,” he said. “This is not supposed to be a bonding year.”

However, he said there is significant support in the House to fund the University’s highest priority request – the Translational Research Facility.

The Translational Research Facility would house biomedical research laboratories and provide researchers an environment to test their findings in a real-world setting. University officials say they have more than $13 million already raised to help pay for the project.

Author of the bonding bill, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glydon, said the Senate also supports building the facility.

“(The University is) really in there with the best of them, and we want to give them the best facilities possible,” he said.

Ventura vetoed $48 million in University capital projects from a $979 million bill in May 2001. Legislators passed the bill on the last day of session, leaving no time to reconvene to override Ventura’s veto.

The University Board of Regents included six bonding projects in its $61 million supplemental budget request in October.

Paul Sand covers University Board of Regents and administration. He welcomes comments at [email protected]