U is big topic in Carlson’s state address

by Coralie Carlson

In his final State of the State address Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Arne Carlson praised the University and stumped for more higher education funding.
Carlson, diverting from the fiscally conservative ways that characterized his first seven years in office, requested $251 million for the University in bonding money this year as part of a larger state budget package. If approved, Carlson would leave a more than $1 billion legacy in his last year in office.
“Much has been made of the size of the bond bill,” Carlson said. “These requests are not simply requests for bricks and mortar. Our bill strengthens higher education, enhances the environment and helps build communities throughout Minnesota.”
The speech, which was accompanied by applause largely from his fellow Republicans, also touched on children’s issues, tax rebates and the state’s booming economy.
But the focus was the bonding bill, the largest in state history. The emphasis he placed on education signifies a turnaround for Carlson, who vetoed several higher education bills throughout his two terms.
Carlson axed three higher education funding bills in four years in the early 1990s. In 1994, he denied the University $9.1 million for the University 2000 undergraduate initiative. This came on the heels of salary freezes and tuition hikes.
Many legislators and University officials attribute Carlson’s previous vetoes to the recession during that period.
“During those times the economy is not as good as it is now,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona. He added the state’s $1.3 billion surplus partially accounts for Carlson’s generous proposal.
“We are stronger financially, more prosperous and better prepared to take on the future than ever before in history,” Carlson said. When he took office in 1991, the state had a $1.2 billion shortfall on its books.
Because of the strong economy and the recent financial prosperity, Carlson is standing behind the University proposal in its entirety. “He made it clear that he was going to fight for the whole package,” said University President Mark Yudof.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said he agrees with Carlson’s initiatives but wants to pay for them with cash from state surpluses instead of bonding, which puts the state into debt.
Carlson, on the other hand, supports using the surplus for tax breaks. This will likely produce a partisan clash when Carlson’s proposals make it to the floor.
“We believe that we must return the bulk of the surpluses back to the taxpayer from whom it came,” Carlson said.
Even with the sizable tax break, Carlson indicated there would be plenty of budget leftovers for the University. And that’s exactly what school officials wanted to hear.
“It just couldn’t be any better,” said Tom Swain, vice president for Institutional Relations. “Carlson was as positive as a state chief executive can be.”