Budget bill survives threat

Chris Vetter

The University’s budget passed through the Senate unanimously on Monday after surviving a scare from an amendment to reduce its funding.
Sen. Steve Morse, DFL-Dakota, presented a floor amendment that would have stripped the University of $9 million that it gained in the Children, Families and Learning Committee last week. Morse wanted to return the money to its pre-committee location in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system’s budget.
The suggestion seemed to have strong support among legislators who spoke, but before a vote was taken, Morse withdrew the amendment. He instead asked Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, to keep the amendment’s suggestions in mind when the conference committee meets to finalize the higher education bill in the coming weeks. Stumpf chairs the committee.
The Senate now waits for the House to pass its higher education bill so differences can be worked out.
During the amendment debate, Morse noted that the University, which will receive a 14 percent increase in funding under the Senate bill, serves only a third of all students who are in public Minnesota colleges and universities. The MnSCU system, which comprises all other state public universities, is currently getting an increase of 10 percent. Morse said he wanted to level the increases so both higher education systems would receive the same amount of money.
Several legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike, supported the Morse amendment. Sen. Arlene Lesewski, R-Marshall, whose district includes MnSCU school Southwest State University, said more money should go to MnSCU schools.
“We should put more money where we have the most students,” she said.
But Stumpf and Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, urged the Senate to support the funding levels reported by the committee.
The Senate higher education bill provides $132 million in cash funding increases for the University’s 1998-99 budget, about $30 million less than the House version. It is also below Gov. Arne Carlson’s $145.8 million recommendation.
After the meeting, Stumpf said he had expected no major amendments because 56 of the 67 senators had already voted on the bill in various committees.
Despite the fact that the Senate’s suggested increase is about $100 million less than the University’s request, Stumpf said the University should still be able to hold tuition to a 2.5 percent increase this biennium.
“We are covering the cost of inflation with this bill,” Stumpf said. “There should not be a need to raise tuition.”
But Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak, who has been the University’s main lobbyist during the budget process, said tuition increases above 2.5 percent are likely if the University does not receive the House increase of $168 million.
Marshak said he could not guarantee inflationary tuition increases if the final funding numbers are as low as the Senate version.
“If the funding is similar to the Senate bill … there would be considerable pressure on tuition,” he said.