U funding still undecided

Tasha Webb

The legislative session has officially ended, and with House and Senate leaders still undecided on state funding priorities, billions of dollars are in limbo.

House and Senate leaders have been unable to provide target funds for committees to allocate, but Gov. Jesse Ventura said this weekend he will offer $125 million to divide among the University, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and the Higher Education Services Office.

In addition Ventura said the University’s financially troubled Academic Health Center would receive $20 million.

The University’s specific allocation has not been decided, but Ventura’s recommendation will be much less than the University’s $221.5 million increase request.

University officials expect the institution would receive between $50 million to $60 million in additional state funding under Ventura’s plan.

However, Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagen, Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman, said she would not settle for Ventura’s offer.

“We expect to have far more than that,” she said. “This is something we are not going to agree to.”

George Cassell, R-Alexandria, another member of the committee, agreed. “(Ventura) is grossly underestimating the needs of the University,” he said.

He said more students should come to conference committees and contact the governor to show their concern.

“The level of funding that the University gets is going to be a significant factor in tuition increases,” said Cassell.

Rep. Steve Dehler, R-St. Joseph, said University students can expect concrete answers on tuition increases and program cutbacks after the conclusion of the special session.

Special session

Ventura press secretary John Wodele said the governor will probably call a special session in mid-June.

If the bill passes during the extended session, University students can probably expect a 14 percent tuition increase and $20 million in cuts, said University President Mark Yudof
during an interview on Minnesota Public Radio earlier this week.

“Our expectation is that the special session will be limited to one day,” he said.

The added session costs between $20,000 and $25,000 per day, and Ventura said legislators should not be paid for the extra hours.

The governor also said he might propose an amendment to abolish the bicameral Legislature in favor of a unicameral system. Combining the House and Senate would simplify the legislative process, making it more efficient and less prone to stalemates, he said.

In addition to the threat of working without pay, legislators are frustrated with the difficulty in getting Ventura’s approval of their bills, citing the governor, not the system, as the major sticking point.

Only one of nine major tax and spending bills passed during the five months of the Legislature’s regular session. No funding was added to the Family and Early Childhood Education bill, which provides funding for early childhood educational programs such as Head Start.

The Legislature has yet to pass health, higher education, K-12 education, human services, transportation, economic development and environment bills.

The special session will focus on state tax rebates, property taxes, K-12 education, higher education, and transportation, leaving abortion, racial profiling and the Twins stadium for discussion in 2002.

Yudof maintains that no matter what the state gives the University, it is the institution’s priority to protect academic programs, quality instruction and education for students.

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