School funding depends on results of compromise

by Chris Vetter

The University might find out by the end of next week how much money it will receive from the Legislature for the school’s 1998-99 biennial budget.
The Higher Education Conference Committee held its first hearing Thursday, as committee representatives from the Senate and House met to hammer out a compromise allocation bill for the University.
Thursday’s session was called a “walk-through,” in which the committee’s Senate Counsel Chris Stang and House Counsel Kerry Fine explained to committee members the differences between the two bills.
The two bills vary in many ways, including how much financial aid the state should provide for low- and moderate-income students. The Senate bill comes close to fully funding the Higher Education Services Office, which distributes financial aid, while the House bill provides only $14 million of the office’s $65 million request.
The University would receive a $132 million increase under the Senate bill and a $171 million increase under the House proposal. The conference committee is likely to settle on a dollar amount somewhere between the two proposals.
The amount of money the committee can allocate for all of the state’s higher education needs has not been determined, but will be settled by Senate and House leaders over the next few days. Currently, the House bill spends $2.38 billion while the Senate bill spends $2.36 billion.
The conference committee is comprised of five Senators and five House members. The Senate named its five conferees last week. The conferees include four Democrats and one Republican.
The five House conferees were named Tuesday. Higher education chairman Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, heads the list. He named two Republicans — Rep. Hilda Betterman, R-Brandon, and Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley — to the committee.
Education chairman Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, and freshman representative Ruth Johnson, DFL-St. Peter, who is a college administrator at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., round out the committee. Carlson said it is uncommon for a freshman legislator to be named to conference committees.
Conference committee members will continue their discussions next week, when they begin ironing out details and deciding on appropriate language for the bill.
The committee is expected to meet at least two or three more times before reaching an agreement on the compromise legislation.
The bill that emerges from the conference committee will go back to both house floors for a vote, where it is expected to pass. The bill would then go to Gov. Arne Carlson.
Brian Dietz, the governor’s press secretary, said Carlson plans to meet with the conference committee sometime next week.
“We have concerns about the amount of spending in the bill,” Dietz said. “Gov. Carlson has made it clear that he will not place the state in a deficit.”
The two higher education bills currently are between $50 million and $70 million more than the governor’s recommendations.