House bill boosts funds

Chris Vetter

After a long weekend of despair about their budget request, University officials’ scowls have turned to smiles, and they’re growing wider as the week progresses.
“It was a great day today,” said Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
For the second straight day, there was good news for the University’s 1998-99 budget, as the House Higher Education Committee drew up its omnibus funding bill for higher education. The committee appropriated a $166.9 million increase Wednesday for the University, about $30 million more than the Senate version, which is also advancing through committees.
Tuesday, the Senate Higher Education Committee appropriated an additional $12 million to the University, bringing the Senate bill to a $136 million increase above last session. When the original Senate bill was released last Friday, the $124 million proposed increase was viewed as a disappointment by officials.
The House appropriation is also more than Gov. Arne Carlson’s $145.8 million proposed increase, but still far below the University’s request of a $230 million raise.
But Richard Pfutzenreuter, vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance, said the House bill is still good news.
“I think we are real happy,” he said. “This is a real boost. It puts us in a good position for the conference committee.”
Marshak said the House bill showed that the legislators understand how hard the University has worked to improve itself, and that there is still need for upgrades.
“We had a very strong vote of confidence by the House committee,” Marshak said.
The House committee had a target of $2.38 billion that it was allowed to spend on higher education, about $20 million more than the Senate committee received. The targets were decided on by leaders in each house.
But Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who chairs the committee, said the targets did not provide enough money.
“We have strict marching orders to stay within the targets,” Pelowski said.
The committee voted 11-1 to support the funding, with only Rep. John Tuma, R-Northfield, voting against it. He said he wanted to fund the Higher Education Services Office, which provides aid to low-income students, at a higher level.
“We did not give the time to financial aid and reform,” Tuma said. “I think it’s unfortunate. The students of the state of Minnesota will be hurt.”
Speaker of the House Phil Carruthers, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said he wanted to make higher education a priority this session, and said he was glad the committee funded the University at a higher level than Carlson’s budget.
The House decided not to pass performance measures, which were added to the Senate bill Wednesday. Performance measures require the University officials to prove they accomplished certain goals to obtain portions of the funding bill.
The bill will likely pass out of the Higher Education Committee today with probably only a few minor changes, Pfutzenreuter said.
The full House will hear the bill Friday.
Both versions of the omnibus bill should reach the floor for a full vote in each house within the next week, Marshak said. The bills will then head to a conference committee where the “real action will be,” Marshak said.
The conference committee will be comprised of five members from each higher education committee.