Final state funding on the way

The Senate recommended $125 million for the University, with a final amount due next week.

Roy Aker

The amount of state funding the University of Minnesota will receive for construction projects is becoming clearer as the legislative session nears its end.

The state Senate released its recommendations Monday, allocating more than $125 million for four University projects and building maintenance and upkeep throughout the five-campus system. The proposal cuts the University’s request short, but school leaders plan to use the final weeks of the session to push for more bonding dollars.

In its 2014 capital request, the University is asking for $100 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funding and nearly $133 million for six projects on the Twin Cities, Duluth and Crookston campuses.

“In the final days of session, we will continue to work with all policymakers to re-emphasize our need for, and reliance on, [HEAPR] funds, in addition to funding for our six priority projects,” University President Eric Kaler said in an email statement Monday.

The Senate’s proposal, released Monday, recommends $6.5 million more than Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding recommendation but is significantly less than what the House is setting aside. None of the proposals grant the University’s request in full — a common trend in the state Legislature for bonding.

Legislators will discuss the bonding differences in the three proposals before deciding on a final version, which Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said could happen before the end of the week. They must decide on final amounts before the session ends May 19.

Funding the University requested for a new Microbial Sciences Research Building on the St. Paul campus wasn’t included in any of the proposals. University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the Board of Regents may consider asking for bonding dollars for the new lab in future capital requests.

Pappas said she would have liked to see senators set aside more HEAPR funding for the University and noted that they allocated a significant amount of funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The Senate’s bonding bill provides more than $172 million for the MNSCU system — about $45 million more than what the chamber set aside in 2012, the last time bonding dollars were decided in the state Legislature.

In addition to funding for higher education construction projects, the bill includes $154 million for transportation projects and $80 million for state housing infrastructure and rehabilitation, among other projects. In total, the bill recommends about $1.1 billion in funding.

Projects

In addition to asking for funding for building maintenance and upkeep and the new Microbial Sciences Research Building, the University has requested state dollars to improve the bee and aquatic invasive species research laboratories on the St. Paul campus.

Pappas said the University has made science and research buildings a top priority since Kaler took office nearly three years ago. Legislators are simply responding to the University’s emphasis, she said.

A top University priority is receiving $57 million to revamp the Tate Laboratory of Physics on the East Bank. All bonding proposals include funding for the project.

The Senate’s proposal includes only about 6 percent of the University’s request for building the Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials Building on the Duluth campus.  The House set aside the full $24 million that was requested.

Pfutzenreuter said the funding the Senate sets aside for the project will go toward planning and designing, but the building’s full construction won’t move forward until more bonding dollars are allocated.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said she’s relieved the bill covered the Duluth building’s preliminary stages but she wished the bill included more
funding for the project.

“I felt that if you’re doing the science building for the Twin Cities campus … we should do that for Duluth, too,” she said.

Like the House and governor’s recommendation, the Senate appropriation doesn’t include funding for the Bell Museum of Natural History and Planetarium facility — a proposal that Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, has pushed for nearly a decade.

Even as discussions about bonding dollars wind down, Hausman said she doesn’t plan to give up advocating for the project. She said if the University pushed for the project in its initial capital request, lawmakers would be more likely to support it.

The University unsuccessfully included the museum in past bonding requests, Pfutzenreuter said.

“We’re only going to beat our head against the wall a couple of times,” he said.

Despite the cuts included in the bonding proposals, Pfutzenreuter said University leaders hope to use the final weeks of the session to tell legislators why the projects are good investments now, especially with relatively low interest rates and recent prices for construction contracts.

“It’s a good time for the state to issue a bonding bill, and it’s a good time for us to get in the market and build these projects,” he said.