Senate crops budget request

by Coralie Carlson

Legislators carved nearly $80 million out of the University’s capital budget request Friday, trimming items at the heart of President Mark Yudof’s technology plans.
The Senate Higher Education Finance Division killed provisions to construct a digital technology center in Walter Library and renovate the Architecture building and Murphy Hall. The committee approved a budget of $172.4 million for the University.
Senators spread their cuts evenly, approving 68 percent of the University’s funding request and 65 percent of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ proposal.
Although these cuts appear deep, the proposed budget would be more than double the size of recent appropriations. Since 1990, capital bonding budgets have averaged from $60 million to $80 million.
Committee members chose between two big-ticket University items: a $70 million Cellular and Molecular Biology Building and $53.6 million Walter Digital Library.
“Because of the sheer size and budget restraints we have, we are unable to do these at the same time,” Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls.
The committee had to meet a conservative target set by the Senate majority of $312 million for all the state’s colleges. Legislators whittled down a $249 million capital request from the University and MnSCU’s $214.4 million request to meet the figure.
After cutting out construction costs for Walter Digital Library, legislators re-routed money intended for MnSCU to plan and design the technology center. The $1 million in seed money was originally intended to fund a footbridge for Century Community and Technical College in White Bear Lake.
Since Yudof was elected president in December 1996, he has touted the Digital Library as a key initiative for the school. This is the first tangible rebuke of Yudof’s plans.
Although disappointed about the cut, Linda Bruemmer, associate to the dean of the Institute of Technology, said she was encouraged by the planning money for the center.
“I consider it a step in the right direction,” she said. Bruemmer works with space and facilities planning and has been tracking the budget legislation from the beginning.
Stumpf said the committee decided to fund renovation of Ford Hall instead of Murphy Hall. Ford comprises more classroom space and therefore would affect more students, he added.
Proposed renovations for Murphy Hall include building a multimedia lecture hall, multimedia classrooms and digital electronic laboratories for audio and video production. Officials consider the new technology and equipment fundamental for the journalism school to retain its once-sterling reputation.
Albert Tims, acting director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication housed in Murphy Hall, said he remains optimistic despite Friday’s cuts because the initiative is still alive in the House bill.
“That’s spilled milk, we need to move on,” he said, adding, “I think that the political landscape over there is still very positive.”
Despite the Senate’s cuts, House education committees approved all of the University’s request. As long as one chamber includes provisions in its bill, the conference committee could adopt the items in the final draft.
But for the last decade, final bonding bills did not include funding requested for the Architecture building’s renovation and addition.
Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, said it was ironic that legislators talked about buildings but did not fund training for people who make buildings.
Lawmakers told Fisher they denied that college funding because it did not spend $9 million allocated earlier for renovation on the top two floors.
College officials said they were waiting for enough money to complete all of the renovation and addition, rather than doing only half a job.
“You can’t put in half of a mechanical system or half an elevator shaft,” Fisher said.
“I think the University and this community has got to decide if they want to offer an Architecture program that’s competitive,” Fisher said. The program would slip in rank — now in the top 10 percent — without adequate facilities, he added. The University provides the only architecture and landscape architecture programs in the state.
The senate also cut building initiatives at the Duluth and Crookston campuses, plus the $3 million for women’s athletic fields and facilities added by Gov. Arne Carlson.