Pawlenty capital plan disappoints U officials

Some state lawmakers said they will work to give higher education more funding.

Molly Moker

Although the University presented a lean request for state dollars to the Legislature, Gov. Tim Pawlenty advocated less than half of the proposal, to the chagrin of University officials.

The governor released his $760 million proposal last week, which included $76.6 million for the University – roughly half of its $155.5 million request for building renovation funds.

If the Legislature approves Pawlenty’s plan, some renovations could be put on hold until the University obtains more funding. But legislators in the Minnesota House and Senate said they will work to give higher education more money when they draft their separate proposals.

University President Bob Bruininks said he was disappointed with the governor’s proposal for many reasons.

“Our request was carefully crafted, and we kept it on the moderate conservative side,” Bruininks said. “We felt it was a very clear and articulate statement of our needs, and it focused on taking care of what we have.”

Citing a need to keep this session’s bonding package affordable and responsible, Pawlenty said last week in a press release that he tried to focus on five key areas to the state: education, economic development, environment, corrections and public services.

The governor’s staff did not return phone calls or e-mails to comment.

Bruininks thought Pawlenty would have funded more of the University’s request because it has the largest inventory of old buildings in the state.

“I really had hoped and expected a stronger level of support for the University, especially after last year’s budget cuts,” Bruininks said.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, chairman of Capital Investment Committee, said higher education is the Senate’s priority, and senators will work to put more money into it.

Overall, Langseth said he would like to see health sciences funded more robustly.

“We currently have a shortage of 3,000 nurses in the workforce and it’s predicted to rise to 6,000 in the future,” Langseth said. “Institutions are turning away nursing students because of inadequate facilities.”

But Langseth is optimistic the University will receive more funding when the final budget is approved.

“If (the governor) wants to end this session anytime soon, he’ll be giving more money to higher education,” Langseth said. “There will be a lot of compromising.”

Langseth said he wants to see the Senate’s bonding bill at $890 million, with a “considerably higher amount going to higher education.”

The University received 11 percent of the governor’s total bonding allocation, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, associate vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance. Historically, the University has garnered up to 18 percent of its request, he said.

“Clearly, we are on the leaner side this year,” Pfutzenreuter said. “It’s not that we’re not grateful for the money we received, but we can’t roll over and die. We need to try and get more money.”

But getting increased funding, he said, will be “very difficult.”

“The governor clearly emphasized he would not go above his proposal,” Pfutzenreuter said. “So if the University or anyone else wants to get more money, that money will have to be taken away from a different project.”

The University’s request – approved by the Board of Regents in October – asked for funding to renovate and expand buildings on the University’s four campuses. Buildings on the Twin Cities campus include Kolthoff Hall, the Education Sciences Building, Carlson School of Management building and the Academic Health Center’s educator facilities.

Projects statewide include the Life Science Building, a business school and a sports and health addition in Duluth. Funding was also requested on the Morris campus for a biomass heating plant addition and football stadium facility that would be shared with the Morris community.

The governor proposed funding the Life Science Building, the Kolthoff Hall renovation and the Education Sciences Building.

Bruininks said unless the University receives more state dollars, the unfunded projects will have to wait until the University’s next capital request in 2006.

“I feel we’ve made very good progress with our maintenance,” Bruininks said. “But this budget is not going to support us in the future.”

House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, said he thinks the governor’s budget looks “pretty good.”

Paulsen said in the end, the House could pass a bonding package roughly $50 million lower than what the governor recommends.

But Paulsen said the House will not cut money from higher education and could end up giving more than the governor did.

“There are a number of legislators who represent the education system around the state,” Paulsen said. “I think it’s very appropriate to invest more money in higher education.”

University lobbyists and alumni will be heading the University’s lobbying efforts. Pfutzenreuter said it is important for students to also support the efforts.

“This isn’t going to better the administration,” Pfutzenreuter said. “This is directly going to benefit the students with better classrooms and better buildings.”