Houses discuss

Coralie Carlson

Legislators began ironing out a $40 million difference between the House and Senate supplemental education bills at the state Capitol on Tuesday evening.
The House version allocates $20 million more to both the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system than the Senate is proposing. The money would fund classroom improvements, hire new professors and compensate current faculty and staff.
In their first meeting conference committee members also heard disagreements over financial aid distribution, University research programs, the Board of Regents selection process and policies toward homosexuals. Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said he expects these issues to be more contentious than the budget.
But it was the dollars and cents which took center stage Tuesday.
“We’ll come to a consensus very quickly on the dollar amounts,” said Stumpf, the chairman of the conference committee and the Senate’s higher education committee.
University officials said they believe the support of Gov. Arne Carlson will come into play. Carlson endorsed the entire $41.5 million package in October.
“He will weigh in on what his wishes are,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the vice president for Budget and Finance.
The conference committee is the latest step for the bill, which University President Mark Yudof unveiled last fall. The supplemental legislation is separate from Yudof’s $249 million building improvement and construction plan, which has already been modified by the Senate and is awaiting House consideration.
After committee members reach consensus, the final bill will go to the House and Senate floor as it inches closer to Gov. Carlson’s desk. During the votes, no amendments can be added.
But according to a House provision, the University’s supplemental funding is contingent on the tolerance of homosexuals in the 4-H program. The House bill states that the University could not require 4-H, a program offered through the school’s extension service, to refrain from discriminating against or recruiting homosexual or bisexual leaders and volunteers.
If the regents did not accept such an amendment, the University would not get any supplemental money. The “human rights” provision was added as a floor amendment in the House; no comparable language exists in the Senate bill.
Sen. Sam Solon, DFL-Duluth, told committee members the provision sounded contradictory to the law. The legislators within the conference committee said they will hold off on a decision until they get more information.
In addition to those quarrels, Stumpf said he expects clashes concerning financial aid policies.
Lawmakers plan to distribute among students $13.5 million in federal financial aid, which requires special legislation to release the money. The Senate bill would spread the money over more students, while the House targets the grants to low-income students.
The House version includes “Grade 13,” a $500 tax credit for first-year college students who attend universities immediately after high school graduation.
Representatives intended the tax credit to piggyback the HOPE scholarship, a $1,500 federal tax exemption instituted last summer. Nationwide, the average cost of a 2-year public college is $1,500 per year, but in Minnesota the average cost is $2,000.
The Senate bill does not have the “Grade 13” tax credit. “I would hope that the Senate would see the wisdom of the House,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal.