Local candidates retain big

by Sam Kean

Though each have different ideas, local candidates for the state House and Senate agree on the University’s importance to Minnesota’s well-being.
In the end, however, one factor — money — controls both their hopes and differences.
State legislators have a more direct impact on the University than other politicians because the state Legislature controls the University’s funding.
Each year the University submits a budget proposal to the Legislature specifically outlining how the money will be spent.
During odd-numbered years, the University requests funding for construction and renovation of buildings, which helps explain the recent increase of campus construction.
During even-numbered years, University officials ask for funding for content-related programs — study abroad, undergraduate education and technology — and future investments.
This year, for instance, the University requested funds to boost faculty salaries and stabilize funding for the Medical School, among other programs.
In late spring, the Legislature decides how much funding to approve for the University.
Each legislative candidate differs on how to allocate the limited amount of state funding to a wide variety of University interests.
Tuition has been rising faster than inflation for the past few years and next year will probably not be an exception.
As a University student, Republican East Bank-area House candidate Ben Bowman said he deals with this problem every year. If elected, he proposes freezing tuition for four or five years once a student enrolls. Tuition would only increase with each incoming class.
This would especially help students who work, because they can budget how much money they need to save, he added.
Bowman’s opponent, DFL incumbent Rep. Phyllis Kahn, said establishing better work-study and internship programs would ease financial burdens “without just throwing money at students.” She also supports reinvesting state tax surpluses in the University.
West Bank area Republican House candidate Orlando Ochoada has a different plan. He would consider eliminating reciprocity, which would raise costs for some students, but might lower them for many others.
Employee health care
Health care costs will jump 20 percent for University employees next year. To offset this cost, the University requested $58 million in its budget proposal.
East Bank area DFL Sen. Larry Pogemiller said he would support this move “wholeheartedly.” Other candidates also agreed in principle, but wanted to examine the request before committing to the proposal.
The Faculty Senate recently recommended the University break away from its current insurance provider, the state of Minnesota.
Ochoada said if the University finds a better deal, it should go to a private company.
Others, including Kahn and Independence Party candidate for the West Bank Senate seat Steve Anderson, were more cautious. Anderson noted that breaking away would be a mistake and said he favors expansion of state-sponsored health care.
Government’s role
The candidates agree that the Legislature should have limited control directing University funds but most agreed to some level of accountability on the University’s part.
Most of the candidates echoed Ochoada, who said, “It’s not unreasonable for the state to have certain expectations.”
He added he would look at cutting the number of University administrators.
Anderson said employees who point out inefficiencies in the University system should receive bonuses. Anderson also pushed for personal rapid transit, which he said illustrates how the University can solve social problems to both the public and the University’s benefit.
Kahn cited the problematic University steam plant as a large-scale inefficiency. Money for the steam plant and former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins’ buyout should have been used on other University programs, she said.
Pogemiller said the steam plant is an example of recent friction between the University and the larger community. In these cases, he said, the Legislature can and should intervene to balance the needs of both.

Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]