Session ends with significant legislation

Legislation affecting the University includes measures on the budget, building projects and alcohol sales.

James Nord

It took a few hours of overtime, but the Minnesota Legislature finally finished their work last week, closing a session that saw mammoth budget deficits, Supreme Court rulings and purple-clad stadium proponents. The session ended in an hours-long special session that was necessary to finalize a bill closing the gap on the stateâÄôs roughly $3 billion budget deficit. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court voted down Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs unallotments from last June, putting about $2.7 billion in limbo and heating up legislative debate heading into the last weeks of the session. Lawmakers bridged two-thirds of the gap by delaying payments to schools and the final third in one-time spending cuts. The state is expecting at least a $5 billion deficit during the next biennium. Pawlenty stood firm against tax increases to close the deficit. âÄúWe tried to find some agreement on new revenue,âÄù said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. âÄúAny sort of revenue increase [Pawlenty] sided against.âÄù Other noteworthy items of legislation include a whittled-down bonding law, cuts to higher education, loosened alcohol restrictions in University of Minnesota facilities and a derailed Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal. Bonding In March, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a roughly $680 million bonding bill into law, cutting about $300 million from the LegislatureâÄôs version of the bill. The University requested roughly $193 million from lawmakers for building projects. About $90 million of the request was fulfilled, including the UniversityâÄôs highest priority, renovations for Folwell Hall. The University requested $23 million for the aging building, then estimated to cost about $34.5 million. The law also granted $56 million for more general facilities upkeep, in addition to $6.6 million for laboratory renovations. Although a new physics and nanotechnology facility received about $4 million in funding, the Legislature cut from the UniversityâÄôs original $53 million request. Pawlenty line-item vetoed the UniversityâÄôs outstate requests before signing the bill into law. The cuts included $6.7 for an American Indian resource center in Duluth and $3.7 million for a research station in Itasca State Park. In retrospect, Rep. Alice Hausman, House Bonding Committee chairwoman, said she wishes these projects had been passed. She proposed an additional bonding bill with these projects included, but it didnâÄôt pass before the session closed. âÄú[The] University of Minnesota does fine in the Twin Cities,âÄù Hausman said at the time of the bill. âÄúIt does terribly outstate.âÄù Budget After the state cut $36 million from the UniversityâÄôs budget in March, lawmakers included PawlentyâÄôs $50 million unallotment in their final budget bill signed into law this month. Funding is down to 2006 levels, the lowest it can go to receive special federal funding. âÄúI thought that, given the enormity of the budget deficit, that we did a pretty good job with the U,âÄù said DFL Sen. Sandra Pappas, chairwoman of the SenateâÄôs Higher Education Committee. âÄúYou know, not a great job, but âĦ they are probably going to stay at their projected tuition [increase] rate.âÄù The University is currently facing a $132.2 budget deficit. The Board of Regents typically votes on the budget in June, spokesman Dan Wolter said. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system received an initial $10.4 million in cuts in addition to $50 million in reinstated unallotments. They are down to 2006 levels as well. âÄúThe federal money is expiring and we still have a huge [upcoming state] budget deficit,âÄù Pappas said. âÄúNext yearâÄôs looking grim.âÄù TCF Bank Stadium alcohol The Legislature passed a bill in May, softening restrictions on the sale of alcohol in TCF Bank Stadium, among other licensed properties. It is still waiting on PawlentyâÄôs signature. The measure requires alcohol to be offered in one-third of general seating before the University can offer it in suites and premium areas. The University is unlikely to act on the law. The University loses about $1.3 million each year because of the previous restrictions, Pappas said. The measure was introduced as an amendment to a House bill and eventually passed. It requires a portion of the money to go toward scholarships for families earning less than $100,000 yearly. In March, Pappas proposed a stand-alone bill to completely repeal restrictions over the UniversityâÄôs alcohol sales policies. It was the first in a string of proposals meant to lighten these restrictions. The Legislature âÄúshouldnâÄôt add insult to injury when weâÄôre already cutting them,âÄù Pappas said. But PappasâÄô bill died in the House, where Rep. Tom Rukavina, House Higher Education Committee chairman, had championed the original restrictions. PappasâÄô attempt was followed by an amendment proposed in May by Rep. Phyllis Kahn,DFL-Minneapolis, to the HouseâÄôs omnibus higher education bill that would have softened some of the restrictions in other properties. Many, if not all, of the measures to soften the ban (and the financial losses) were proposed at the behest of Friends of Gopher Sports, a group of University Athletics supporters. âÄúWhere are the hoards of citizens or students that are begging for [alcohol in general seating]?âÄù Pappas said. Vikings Stadium In May, a group of lawmakers issued a proposal to build a fixed-roof, $791 million Vikings stadium that eventually floundered. Although the legislators who proposed it appeared confident that the measure would pass this session, the House version was defeated almost immediately, and the bill went virtually nowhere in the Senate. Funding sources for the stadium came under fire almost immediately, especially from Pawlenty, who stood against any tax increases to pay for the stadium. The bill included two financing plans, both of which would require funding from the Vikings. The favored proposal featured tax increases on goods and services purchased by sports fans, including jerseys, hotels and rental cars. Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said funding for the stadium was âÄúcreative.âÄù The Vikings lease in the Metrodome ends after the 2011 season. âÄúYou canâÄôt wait âÄôtil the very end to start this,âÄù Solberg said. âÄúThen youâÄôre negotiating with a gun to your head, and I didnâÄôt want to do thatâÄù The bill also lacked the local government partner required to provide some of the funding. It will likely be introduced next session. âÄúItâÄôs not going to go away,âÄù Solberg said.