U budget cuts advance in House

The bill cuts $89.2 million from the University’s two-year budget.

Michael Zittlow

The Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill Monday that cuts $89.2 million from the University of MinnesotaâÄôs projected two-year budget and poses reductions to the state agency that provides financial aid for students.

The bill, which already went through the House Finance Committee, draws from the UniversityâÄôs projected budget increases. In 2012, $44 million of that will be cuts to Operations and Maintenance. There will be an extended $4 million cut to the schoolâÄôs Agriculture and Extension Service, as well as extended reductions to other areas like health sciences.

A similar bill will go before the state Senate Committee on Finance on Wednesday.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the University had no input in the bill. The proposed cuts affect funds that would have gone toward financial aid, rehiring 75 faculty members and maintenance costs, he said.

ItâÄôs too early to tell whether the cuts will mean a tuition increase, Pfutzenreuter said.

Republican legislative leaders have said this is only the first round of budget cuts. Pfutzenreuter said round two will be “the dicey proposition for the
University.”

The bill also includes a $200 million cut to state agencies but specifies that higher education cannot be included.

But Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said it could mean a $30 million cut to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education âÄî an agency that provided grants, work study funds and scholarships to 84,500 students in 2009.

Cuts to the University and to the Office of Higher Education mean “lost opportunity” for students, said Carlson, who voted against the bill. The University will have to deal with the “pressure” of inflation and increasing student enrollment.

“[The University] will not be getting the kind of funding to support its growth,” Carlson said. “WeâÄôre going to see tuition increase. WeâÄôll probably see cuts in staff and faculty.”

Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, who proposed the section of the bill that might mean cuts to the Office of Higher Education, said the bill is necessary to pull Minnesota out of financial crisis.

“If we donâÄôt do this, weâÄôre going to have to lay off a lot of people,” Gunther said.

Democrats criticized Republicans on the committee for passing a “piecemeal” bill that had “limited public input.”

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, complained that the bill had not been displayed on the committeeâÄôs website in time for the public to give its input.

Republicans said the bill is a responsible action to combat the stateâÄôs deficit.

“The sooner you stop spending, the more options you have,” Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, said.