Tuition up to governor

If Gov. Pawlenty signs the bill into law, overall tuition rates will increase by 4.5 percent in the next year.

Justin Horwath

The fate of University funding is sitting in limbo before the governor.

The higher education omnibus bill is one of the many budget bills lawmakers wrangled through Monday night to send to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk before a midnight deadline to pass major funding bills for this year’s legislative session.

‘Recent historic lows’ in tuition increases

The proposed University funding fluctuated after a veto by the governor, and a revised version awaits his approval, as of Daily press time.

Legislators cut the University’s budget request of $182 million by $33 million this biennium in the omnibus higher education bill.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said he supports the revised bill.

“It’s a bill that really allows the University to maintain quality and invest in a variety of programs that we outlined in our biennium request,” he said.

If Pawlenty signs the bill into law, overall tuition will go up 4.5 percent next year, Pfutzenreuter said, adding that Minnesota resident undergraduate students whose families’ income is less than $150,000 will see an increase of about two percent.

“We’re able to keep tuition, frankly, at recent historic lows,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Last year, tuition went up 6.5 percent, and in previous years it has increased by 14 percent, said Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst for the University’s Office of Institutional Research.

Still, Pfutzenrueter noted that “the second year in the biennium is going to be a bit problematic.”

He said lawmakers front-loaded funding in the first year of the biennium “and that will put some stress on tuition the second year.”

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Republicans offered a tuition freeze that Democrats “snuck out” of the proposed bill in a conference committee before sending it to the governor for a veto earlier in the month.

“That was very disappointing,” he said, but added that the final higher education bill “came out pretty good.”

Legislators dropped the Dream Act, included in an early version of the bill. The Act would have provided in-state tuition rates to undocumented Minnesota high school graduates.

After providing more money for military veterans going to college and including Pawlenty’s Achieve program, which allocates funds for high-school students who take college-level courses, the bill passed the Senate unanimously and breezed by through the House with only seven votes in opposition before going to Pawlenty.

“I think the higher ed bill was the best that’s been around here for years,” said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who authored the bill. “It would have been a lot better until the governor started demanding things.”

Lights out for the gas tax

Students who commute to campus probably won’t see an increase in the gas tax.

Lawmakers tried to override Pawlenty’s veto on the controversial transportation bill, which would have implemented a 7.5 cent-per-gallon gas tax on Minnesotans, along with other transportation-related fees.

The attempt, last Monday, was colored with partisan debate on House procedures, with House majority leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, trying to prevent Republicans from taking the floor.

Still, the motion to override Pawlenty’s veto fell short by seven votes of the necessary 90.

Instead, a “lights on” transportation bill went to the governor. Lawmakers said the bill will barely keep the transit system running, and relies on bonding money to pay for transit services. To Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, author of the original omnibus transportation bill with the gas tax, that means the college-aged generation is going to pay for it.

“(The governor) is dead-set on not spending any money on transportation,” Murphy said. “That’s just fiscally irresponsible.”

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, crossed party lines and voted for Murphy’s transportation bill, but he didn’t cast a vote to override Pawlenty’s veto.

“I voted for the bill to basically send a message to the governor that the bonding plan is inadequate,” he said. “Voting for a bill is one thing but overriding his veto is another,” adding that he “respects the governor’s veto.”

Urdahl voted for the “lights on” bill.

Other developments

Indicating a possible veto at a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol, Pawlenty expressed disappointment with the attempt to pass a bill with a ten-cent-per-gallon gas tax, saying the advocates for the tax have been “overreaching for 20 years.”

Pawlenty touted new energy initiatives and provisions to veterans, but he expressed disappointment in the tax bill, which allocates funds for property tax relief, even indicating a possible veto.

But he said he didn’t think “we will need a special session.”

Pawlenty has until Thursday to decide to veto bills on his desk, possibly inducing a special session.