What have they done for the ‘U’ lately?

A recap of the past legislative session

Andy Mannix

>THE CENTRAL CORRIDOR WAR

The battle for the Central Corridor wages on between state lawmakers and University officials.

Legislators approved $70 million in state funding earlier this month to help build a new light-rail route that would run down Washington Avenue, linking Minneapolis and St. Paul.

University officials, however, continue to push for an alternative northern route.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL- St. Paul, expressed sentiments of frustration with the University’s unwillingness to cooperate and fear that it could cost the state federal funding.

“If the University thinks we can put this off a year and not lose our place in line, I think they don’t understand really what the demand is around the country,” Hausman said.

Among the University’s core problems with the Washington Avenue route is the potential negative impact deferring traffic could have on the community, Vice President for University Services Kathleen O’Brien said.

The University is also concerned with the damage the light rail could have on research facilities that would be in close proximity with the line, O’Brien said.

If the Washington Avenue route is passed, the University has no plans to take legal action, O’Brien said.

The Central Corridor Management Committee is expected to make a recommendation this week.

BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH FACILITIES A GO

The Legislature appropriated $219 million to the University that will fund four new biomedical research facilities.

The first of which, a cancer biomedical research building, is expected to be finished in January 2010.

The other three will be completed in the following three years.

THE ‘U’ HEADS CANCER STUDY

The University received $4.9 million to study mesothelioma – a form of lung cancer plaguing taconite miners in the Iron Range.

The multiyear study will attempt to minimize miner exposure to harmful dust, provide physical checkups for current and former miners and analyze potentially harmful samples from the area.

BONDING BILL: PASSED AND SLASHED

The Legislature passed the state bonding bill in April, which allocates money to several projects around Minnesota, including some within the University.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly cut about $200 million from the nearly $925 million originally appropriated in the bill.

The cuts within the University included funding for a new Bell Museum and $2 million that would have gone to classroom renewals.

Pawlenty also cut $70 million from the Central Corridor, which some legislators thought would be the death of the project.

BUDGET CUTS

Legislators and Pawlenty cut $12.3 million in University funds while balancing the state budget.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter called the cuts “the best of the worst that could happen,” citing Pawlenty’s initial intention to cut as much as $27 million.

“It was a rollercoaster session in terms of what the cut was going to be, and I think the outcome is manageable,” Pfutzenreuter said.

The University will manage the cuts by utilizing one-time reserves, one-time spending cuts, spending reductions and investment delays, Pfutzenreuter said.

The cuts will be split between this fiscal year and next, he said.

Given the “slow” state of the economy, it’s possible the University will receive additional bad budget news in the next year, Pfutzenreuter said.

Andy Mannix is a senior staff reporter.