Ventura vetoes $48 million of U bonding request

Brad Unangst

University officials found out how sharp the self-proclaimed “Samurai” governor’s veto sword was last week when Gov. Jesse Ventura sliced more than $48 million in University capital projects from the bonding bill.

The $979.1 million bill had included more than $160 million for University projects. John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman, said the governor made the cuts because of fiscal concerns.

“We could not enter into these spending commitments given the fact that our budget is not balanced into the future, when the debt service would come into play,” Wodele said.

Legislators passed the 2002 bonding bill May 19 – the last day of the legislative session – leaving no time to reconvene and vote to override Ventura’s vetoes.

The signed bill provides nearly $112 million for the University.

Vetoed renovations include $8 million for Jones Hall, $3 million for the Institute of Technology and $24 million for the Translational Research Facility.

Ventura approved the top six projects on the University’s priority list, with $35 million of the total funding earmarked for building upkeep on University campuses, Wodele said.

“We funded projects that were a priority to the University, projects that were already started that we needed to finish or projects that had to do with preserving, renovation or fixing up buildings we already have an investment in,” Wodele said.

The University also received $17.7 million for the St. Paul Plant Growth Facility, $24 million for Nicholson Hall and $25.5 million for the Duluth campus’ Science Facility.

“We’re appreciative of the bonding he did give us, but that doesn’t mean we’re not disappointed because of what we didn’t get,” said University Vice President for Health Services Frank Cerra.

University officials said the governor’s decision to veto funding for the Translational Research Facility was disappointing, given the college’s mission of research.

The facility would allow researchers and physicians to collaborate their work, bringing treatment and cures to patients faster, University officials said.

“The translational laboratories are key components in that system of taking what is discovered in the laboratories and converting it to commercial use,” said Regents Vice Chairman Robert Bergland.

Regents Chairwoman Maureen Reed agreed and said the labs would bring federal funding to the state and produce technologies beneficial to all Minnesotans.

Cerra estimated the Translational Research Facility would have generated $50 million per year for the state.

University officials said because of the veto, the University will lose a $10 million anonymous donation for the project.

Of the $24 million allocated to Nicholson, only $10 million is available immediately. The remaining $14 million will be released by Ventura after the Legislature balances the state’s budget, Wodele said. In a statement released Wednesday, Ventura said next year’s projected state deficit is $2.5 billion.

University budget and finance officer Michael Berthelsen said the Nicholson project is on hold until the full funding is available.

“Our plan was not to do a partial renovation but a complete renovation of Nicholson Hall,” Berthelsen said. “We don’t know how to proceed at this point.”

State legislators said they worked hard to reach a consensus on the bill’s projects and were disappointed by Ventura’s actions.

“All the projects that were vetoed were good projects,” said the Capital Investment Committee chairman Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud. Knoblach said he thought the governor made his mind up long before receiving the approved bill.

Sen. Deanna Wiener, D-Eagan and a Capital Investment Committee member, said Ventura’s vetoes raised questions about his priorities.

“Where does he put his emphasis?” Wiener said. “It’s not been on higher ed.”

If elected to a second gubernatorial term, Ventura would consider approving funding for the vetoed projects next year, Wodele said.

University officials said the University will resubmit all the vetoed projects for the next bonding bill.

“I’m looking forward to getting all these projects funded as soon as humanly and politically possible,” Reed said.