House passes budget bill

Chris Vetter

After long and unpredictable trips through the two houses of the Legislature, the University’s budget will now make one final stop before landing on the governor’s desk.
The full House passed its omnibus higher education bill 112-20 Wednesday with a $171 million increase earmarked for the University’s 1998-99 budget. The Senate passed its version of the bill Monday, and members of the two houses will meet in conference committee within the next two weeks to come up with a final dollar amount to forward to Gov. Arne Carlson for approval.
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said the House passed a bill with bipartisan support that addresses students interests.
“This is an extremely good bill,” Pelowski said. “This was a cooperative effort.”
Pelowski said the next key factor in the budget process will be how much the conference committee is allowed to spend on the bill, a number that is yet to be determined by leading legislators. The House bill provides about $38 million more for the University than the Senate version.
A series of seemingly successful meetings with legislators from both houses last quarter left University officials with an optimistic outlook for receiving at least a substantial slice of their requested increase of $230 million for the next two years. But the prospect of a healthy increase was dimmed when the Senate’s first funding proposal of $124 million — more than $100 million less than the University’s request — was unveiled April 4.
However, things began to look up days later when the Senate bumped its funding suggestion to its current level, and the House released its own initial figure of $166 million.
The Senate bill provides more funding directly for student aid than to school systems, but Pelowski defended the House decision to give the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system significantly more than the Senate version. “We have told (the schools) to bring us budgets that will affect students,” Pelowski said. “We have targeted the money to the campuses for technology.”