State Legislators react to University funding proposal

The University will request $242 million in projects from the Legislature, if approved by the Board of Regents.

by Taryn Wobbema

A $242 million state funding request will go before the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in October before being handed over to the state Legislature for consideration next session. The proposed request includes $100 million in system-wide building renovations in what is called Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding. If the request passes intact, the Twin Cities campus could receive $24.3 million for interior renovations to Folwell Hall and $53.3 million for a new physics and nanotechnology building. When the session convenes in February, the Legislature will begin sifting through funding requests from various state divisions, forcing the University to compete for a larger amount of funding. âÄúAll the requests really stretch the bonding bill,âÄù Higher Education Budget and Policy Division chairwoman Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said. The University usually raises legislative support for specific new projects âÄî such as the new science classroom building, which received $48.3 million for design and construction in 2008 âÄî but not always. Requests over the past two years have included funding for a new Bell Museum of Natural History . While the project passed the Legislature, Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it both times. Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, the ranking minority member on the Higher Education Budget and Policy Committee, said she thinks it is wise of the University to not include the Bell Museum in its request this year. Robling offered an amendment to the bonding bill last session that would have taken the Bell project out and put the funds toward HEAPR instead. The amendment was barely defeated. Getting the requested amount in HEAPR funds is always difficult. In 2008, the University requested $100 million for building renovations but only received $35 million once the bonding bill passed. The same was true in 2009 when a smaller request of $35 million was submitted, but the University only received $25 million. Pappas said she is supportive of substantial HEAPR funding, but it is hard to give. âÄúThe best way to get HEAPR funded would be to not ask for anything else,âÄù Pappas said. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Finance Committee , said HEAPR is more difficult to fund because it is less precise, since renovations tend to be less obvious than a new project. Robling said more could be given to HEAPR this year, âÄúsince [the UniversityâÄôs] new building requests are less extensive.âÄù She said a bigger HEAPR allotment would be a good use of money because it would create jobs and improve energy efficiency âÄî necessary criteria for receiving preservation funds. Hausman, who authored the bonding bill in the House the past two years, said the largest portion of the bill always goes to higher education. Pappas said a traditional bonding bill cap of $1 billion limits higher educationâÄôs project scope. The average amount of funding requested by higher education institutions usually amounts to half of the size of the bonding bill, Robling said. While higher education projects usually receive about one-third of the bonding bill, it is divided between the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. MnSCU plans to request $301.3 million from the state, according to its 2010 state budget request. As for new University projects, Pappas pointed to the physics and nanotechnology building as a hefty one that may struggle for full funding. The University is requesting state funds for design and construction, but Pappas said she suspects the state could only fund the design portion of the project. Robling said the University will have to address the Legislature about its need for a new building rather than renovations to an existing one. University officials would not comment on lawmakersâÄô reactions to the bonding request since it hasnâÄôt been formally approved by the Board of Regents.