U gets $39 million in Senate bonding bill

The University of Minnesota originally requested about $170 million from the state for construction projects.

by Branden Largent

The University of Minnesota got another dose of bad news with the release of the Senate’s bonding bill proposal Wednesday.

The Senate’s bonding bill allocates about $39 million for University construction projects — almost $40 million less than Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal and less than one-fourth of what the University originally requested.

Although the $496 million Senate bill for construction projects around the state is almost twice as large overall as the House’s proposal, the two bills give identical funds to the University. The House’s bonding bill was released last week.

“The House and Senate funding levels are woefully inadequate to meet critical needs,” University President Eric Kaler said in a statement.

The Senate proposed $35 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement money, which is used for making repairs and improvements around campus. The Senate and House’s HEAPR allocation is $15 million more than Dayton proposed but $55 million short of the University’s $90 million request.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter previously told the Minnesota Daily he appreciated the extra $15 million but said more money is still needed.

“We need [all $90 million] to keep the campus up to date, and we’ve got a backlog,” he said.

The remaining $4 million in the bills would go towardrenovating the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories.

Both the House and Senate bills left out funding to renovate the Old Main Utility building, for which Dayton proposed allocating the University’s full $54 million request.

Pfutzenreuter said that money would be used to purchase new boilers for the decommissioned plant, which is near the pedestrian bridge on the east bank of the Mississippi River.

A plant farther north up the river currently provides heat for the campus, but Pfutzenreuter said it’s not enough.

“The University needs to address now its issues around providing adequate heating for the campus.”

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji,  said he believes the University has the capability to fund the building on its own.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said this was the worst bonding bill she’d seen in 20 years.

“The piddly little amount given to the University is embarrassing.”

Neither the Legislature nor the governor proposed funding to renovate Eddy Hall.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities received $127 million in the Senate’s proposal — more than three times the University’s share.

Carlson said the disparity between MnSCU and the University is justifiable because of enrollment. MnSCU has about 250,000 students in 31 institutions, while the entire University of Minnesota system has nearly 64,000 students.

“I think if you take that into consideration, I think that overall we probably did better for the U than for MnSCU per student ratio,” Carlson said.

The bill will go through the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday morning and will be on the Senate floor Friday, Pappas said.

Kaler, along with his special assistant for government relations Jason Rohloff  and members of the Board of Regents, will be talking with Dayton and House and Senate leadership to get more funding for the University, spokesman Jeff Falk said.

The bill will eventually have to go through conference committee, combining the House and Senate capital investment committees.

Other city projects left off the Senate bill include the Nicollet Mall renovation and funds for the St. Paul Saints ballpark.

—Kyle Potter contributed to this report.