Upcoming legislative session will be significant for the U

by Brady Averill

While some legislators call their last session the “do nothing” session, they say they will definitely get more accomplished this time around.

“It should be better than the last session,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

During the last legislative session, the bonding bill didn’t pass because of gridlock in the Legislature. The bonding bill funds construction projects.

This session, the University’s bonding bill and two-year budget requests are up for consideration.

Marty McDonough, a University lobbyist, said the University should fare better this year.

“Comparatively speaking, it would be hard to do worse than two years ago,” he said.

House Higher Education Finance Committee Chairman Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said he doesn’t know how the University will do this legislative session without seeing the governor’s budget.

This year’s state budget is approximately $30 billion, up $2 billion from last year, he said.

Nornes said that leaves more money for programs such as higher education. He said, however, the University won’t get extra money unless spending is controlled in other programs.

Bonding bill

The bonding bill, which would fund University projects such as maintenance and various facility improvements on its campuses, is likely to pass, legislators said.

University President Bob Bruininks resubmitted the bonding request in late November. He asked for $158 million, approximately $3 million more than last session’s request, because of inflation and construction costs.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recommendation is that the University receive $100 million in state funding from the bonding bill.

Kahn said she doesn’t think the governor’s recommendation is enough, but it is better than nothing. She said she is not sure when the bonding bill will pass.

“At this point, it’s important to just pass the bonding bill,” she said.

Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said he anticipates the bonding bill will pass the Senate in late January or early February.

Nornes said the House will likely pass the bill.

“It’s important we not only pass it, but we probably pass it with enough funding to make up for any increased costs,” he said.

State funding

The University is asking for a 50-50 partnership from the state in its two-year operational budget proposal. The budget funds the day-to-day costs the University has, such as salaries and heating costs.

The total University request for state investment during fiscal years 2005 and 2006 is $84 million. The University would match that by reallocating funds from different areas and a tuition increase of 5.5 percent.

Money from the state would help pay for biosciences, attracting and retaining faculty members, and creating and sustaining research and technology.

In 2004, 25 percent of the University’s funds came from the state and 21 percent came from tuition and fees.

“My strongest priority for the University is its budget request,” Kahn said.

Decreasing state funding is “intolerable,” she said.