Committee gives budget proposal

by Jessica Burke

Citing a need for fiscal responsibility, the Senate Higher Education subcommittee recommended Thursday a budget figure for Minnesota colleges and universities that was less than proposals from the House and the governor.
The subcommittee recommended giving higher education $150 million for building renewal and construction in the next two years. The University would receive $96 million of the funds, which would come from state-issued bonds.
Senate leaders told the subcommittee members to come up with a recommendation that was significantly less than the governor’s, said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls.
“We’re operating under a tight dollar amount,” said Stumpf, the chairman of the subcommittee.
Some subcommittee members expressed concern about the lack of funds for higher education while there is a proposal in the Legislature to provide $100 million to build a new prison.
“In my opinion, it’s disgusting,” said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. “We shouldn’t be letting criminals dictate what we do with students.”
The subcommittee’s proposal does not include $6.5 million that the University requested for upgrades in the Academic Health Center or $21 million that Gov. Arne Carlson requested for a new architecture building on the Minneapolis campus.
Sen. Lawrence Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced a section to the recommendation that would give the University the authority to use funds it would gain from a proposed merger between University Hospital and Fairview Health System.
If the merger takes place, the school will sell the University Hospital building and a parking ramp. With the proceeds from that sale, the University could pay off existing bonds from previous projects. Paying those bonds would enable the University to sell its own bonds to pay for a new architecture building, upgrades in the Academic Health Center, or the relocation of a steam heating plant, according to Pogemiller’s section of the recommendation.
But the University could use the proceeds from the sale of the hospital and ramp for any projects — not just those stated in the bill, Stumpf said.
While the bonding recommendation for the University in the Senate is smaller than the governor’s request, the House version is substantially larger.
As the bonding bill now stands in the House, there is $112 million proposed for the University.
The House version of the bonding bill includes funding for the Academic Health Center, and more than $32 million in additional facility renewal funds and health and safety funds.
The Senate version includes $20 million for the construction of a library on the Duluth campus. There are only design funds for the project in the House version.
The Senate Education Committee will hear the bonding recommendations today.