University to request budget totaling $61 million

Brad Unangst

CROOKSTON, Minn. – The University plans to ask the state Legislature in January to fund some of the projects vetoed by Gov. Jesse Ventura last session, officials told the Board of Regents here Friday.

The $61 million supplemental budget request includes six vetoed projects from last year’s bonding bill. Normally, the Legislature approves a bonding bill every other year.

“We happen to believe there’s considerable support in the Legislature for this idea,” said interim University President Robert Bruininks.

Those projects include the construction of the Translational Research Facility, renovations to Jones Hall and predesign work on the Institute of Technology Teaching and Technology Center.

In the case of the TRF – a building that would allow researchers to collaborate with physicians performing clinical work to bring treatment and cures to patients faster – the University was able to convince an anonymous donor who had initially pledged $10 million to the project before it was vetoed to continue being involved while they reattempt state funding, Bruininks said.

Officials said waiting until the 2004 session for approval would put the University at a disadvantage in competing for research money with institutions that have state-of-the-art research facilities.

Six-year plan

Bruininks also told regents the University is “moderately optimistic” the Legislature will approve the first part of the proposed six-year, $775 million capital budget plan in January 2004.

Officials called the plan – which outlines the costs of University construction and renovation projects through 2008, including projected debt – a radical departure from past plans.

Of the projects identified in the plan, 63 percent are renovation and 37 percent are new construction.

Typically in the past, two-thirds of the capital request was new construction and one-third was renovation, Bruininks said.

In another change from previous years, the plan calls for the University to rely more heavily on fund raising to pay for projects.

Under the new plan, the state would supply more than $511 million, with the University picking up $64.5 million in debt.

A total of $166.5 million would come from fund-raising efforts and from the individual colleges benefiting from the projects.

“We believe the plan is moderately optimistic,” Bruininks said. “It is a balanced plan with many sources of funding.”

But some regents said the plan might be too optimistic given the state’s pending deficit – which officials estimate is approximately $3 billion.

Regent Jean Keffeler questioned whether the plan asks the Legislature for too much.

“I am just seeking assurance that while we are putting forward our needs, we are also setting some realistic expectations on part of the institution for what is achievable,” she said.

University officials said that while the plan is aggressive, it lays out only those projects that are priorities to the University and its missions.

“I think we know we’re not going to get all of them,” said University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter. “We have to state what we need.”

The plan also includes a request for $80 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funding in each of the next three bonding years.

HEAPR is a capital request category that includes improvements in health and life safety, exterior and interior mechanical-electrical systems, and technology of buildings that serve existing academic programs. The University is not required to pay the debt service on HEAPR projects.

“It’s a way to get a lot of the University’s capital needs funded without taking on extraordinary debt, and we feel we need to move more of our requests into the category,” Bruininks said.

Regent Frank Berman said although he was satisfied with the plan, he wondered if the University’s renovation focus could eliminate new project construction.

“We’ll see when the real budget comes up and when we start talking about specifics; then we’ll see what the score is,” he said.

Regents are expected to approve the supplemental budget request and the six-year plan next month. The supplemental request will be presented to the state Legislature in January, and part of the six-year plan will go before the state in January 2004.


Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]