Leg. Republicans: $411 million cut to higher ed

The GOP’s desired higher education cuts are double what Gov. Dayton proposed.

by James Nord

Republican legislators unveiled budget cut targets Thursday that would slash $411 million from higher education funding — more than double DFL Gov. Mark DaytonâÄôs proposed reductions — to solve MinnesotaâÄôs $5 billion projected budget deficit.

The House and Senate released different proposed targets, meaning any future bill will have to be resolved in a conference committee. Both proposals contain the same projected dollar amounts to K-12 and higher education but differ significantly on tax cuts and state government and veterans funding.                 

With the targets in hand, GOP committee chairs in both chambers have been tasked with specifying and finalizing the cuts, which would take roughly $1.6 billion from Health and Human Services, between $780 and $850 million from government aid and between $380 and $500 million from state government and veterans.               

With a March 25 deadline, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said sheâÄôs instructed committee chairs to âÄúget to work, hurry up, move.âÄù

“We’ve been moving at warp speed here,” Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said.

In many cases, the Republican targets donâÄôt represent actual cuts but reductions in the automatic spending increases projected by the state. For higher education, however, GOP targets reduce spending by $309 million in real dollars over the current biennium.

âÄúOnce again higher education is taking a disproportionate share of the cuts,âÄù University of Minnesota CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said. âÄúWeâÄôre continuing to drop like a rock.âÄù

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Higher Education Committee Chairman Bud Nornes has been working with the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to mitigate the cuts’ effects. Zellers called the reductions an “agressive target,” but noted that the goal is to work on reform as well.

“It’s not all about dollars,” he said.

DaytonâÄôs budget proposal includes about $3.2 billion in new revenue to offset some of the deep cuts Republicans have proposed. His budget for the 2012-2013 biennium projects about $37.4 billion in state spending while Republicans are aiming for roughly $34.5 billion in expenditures.

While Dayton’s budget would include tax hikes, Republicans are looking to provide Minnesotans with a little tax relief. The House has targeted middle and low-income residents for some tax breaks, while the Senate is looking to offer small businesses a reprieve.

Because the GOP targets havenâÄôt gone through the committee process, none of the proposals are specific. For higher ed, that means the UniversityâÄôs share of the pain is currently unknown. Under DaytonâÄôs plan, it would face a $77.2 million cut.

âÄúThis is a framework, this is not a bill,âÄù Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said. âÄúThe gun has just gone off and now itâÄôs budget 24-7 at the Capitol.âÄù

Shortly after the targets were released, the DFL minority leadership started taking aim.

“Middle class Minnesotans should start guarding their wallets from this pickpocket Republican proposal,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said.

In a statement criticizing Republican priorities, Dayton Spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci wrote: “Earlier today the governor reiterated his belief that budgets are a reflection of values and priorities and the decisions we make about the budget affect people’s lives. Based on the spreadsheets the GOP put out today, it appears those values and priorities are cutting education, cutting health care, cutting jobs, cutting veterans and raising property taxes. These cuts will hurt school children, tax payers, businesses and seniors.”

But both sides of the aisle managed to find some accord.

The GOP and Dayton would continue a $1.4 billion K-12 education funding shift into the future, allowing the state more leeway in tackling the deficit.