State agencies await budget decisions; deadline late tonight

Tasha Webb

After almost five months in legislative sessions and with no state budget in sight, the University and thousands of other state agencies could be left without funding increases.

If the Legislature cannot agree on a biennium budget by midnight tonight, a “lights-on” budget could be implemented, state legislators said Thursday.

The lights-on proposal would continue the state’s current budget and include a 3 percent inflationary increase until legislators return to session in February 2002.

University officials estimate the lights-on plan would give the University a $15 million increase for 2002.

A University spokesperson said the institution needs a $77 million increase for 2002 to maintain faculty salaries, facilities, health care and high-quality education.

“The effect would be extremely negative in all areas,” said President Mark Yudof.

Frank Cerra, vice president for the University’s Academic Health Center, said the lights-on proposal would be a disaster for the University.

“Certainly, there would have to be major, major increases in tuition, no raises, probably no hiring,” he said.

Other alternatives to the lights-on proposal include Gov. Jesse Ventura calling a special session, allowing the Legislature to continue discussions, or for the Legislature to agree on a new budget by midnight Monday.

Ventura and House and Senate leaders are pessimistic that an agreement will be reached.

Higher Education Conference Committee member Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, said the committee cannot determine University allocations until House and Senate leaders agree on legislative funding targets.

“It is three days before the end of the session, and there is little evidence that anything is getting done,” Ventura said in a release Saturday. “Conference committees aren’t meeting, and the legislators have gone home.”

He said he did not know if or when he would call a special session, but state officials say he will probably call one this summer.

If Ventura does not call a special session by June 30, funding for state agencies will cease, forcing these programs to use reserves – if they have them.

“Education might be able to get by for the summer months,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal.

But Carlson said other state programs that don’t slow down during the summer months, such as transportation and health care, will not be so fortunate.


Tasha Webb covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected]