Pfutzenreuter projects tuition effects of lawmakers’ U budget proposals

by K.C. Howard

The final card is on the table. And University officials have three scenarios with which to plan their budget next year.

The best option for the University yet is the House’s proposal, approved Wednesday, to cut $20 million from the $36 million increase in state funding allocated to the University for the 2002-03 school year.Coming in second place is the Senate’s suggested $25 million in cuts. And Gov. Jesse Ventura’s $33 million reduction is dead last on the University’s wish list.

“We fully understand that education is going to have to take a cut,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, vice president for the University’s Office of Budget and Finance. “We have never shied away from the fact that cuts weren’t going to be nice.”

Pfutzenreuter gave ballpark figures to state representatives Wednesday illustrating the effect proposed cuts would have on University tuition levels.

He estimated Ventura’s planned $33 million cut would translate to a tuition increase of approximately 4 percent. Put that on top of the Board of Regents-approved 13.6 percent tuition increase slated for the 2002-03 school year and students could expect a 17 percent jump in tuition.

Under the House’s proposal – $20 million – University students would see virtually no increase in tuition, Pfutzenreuter said.

“It is my feeling, although I have not had a chance to talk to the Board of Regents or the president, that the House’s proposal really substantially lessens the probability that the University would increase tuition,” he said.

The University has not yet compiled an estimate for the Senate’s proposal, but all three parties include language in their bills encouraging the University to cut administrative expenses and reserve balances before increasing tuition.

“We’ll adhere to the spirit of that,” Pfutzenreuter said, “but the difficulty is how to define administration, and (legislators) didn’t define it for us.”

Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, and chairwoman of the Higher Education Finance Committee, has emphasized this session that despite the state’s expected $1.95 billion deficit, students should be protected from the fiscal scythe sweeping through state agencies.

Before voting Wednesday to approve the $50 million cut to state higher education, committee Democrats attempted to alter the proposal and not cut University or the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system funding at all.

“I’m trying to protect our students from receiving huge tuition increases,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, who submitted the amendment.

He suggested the Legislature could avoid cutting University and MnSCU funding completely if the state reduced its $865 million budget for consulting fees by 5 percent.

“To say that there should be no cuts to higher education is fiscally irresponsible,” Leppik said. “This has been a very difficult process to go through. We think the bill is fair. It is fiscally responsible.”

In a 4-to-6 partisan vote, the amendment did not pass. But Carlson said he plans to bring it to the full House floor, where it would have more support.

K.C. Howard welcomes comments at [email protected]