Budget request, stadium top list of U’s legislative issues

George Fairbanks

As the Minnesota Legislature begins a new session, two issues are likely to dominate the interest of University students and faculty.
The first is University President Mark Yudof’s request for funding.
The current two-year budget expires in June and begins the race to earmark legislative dollars.
Yudof is expected to ask the Legislature to raise University funding to $1.4 billion for 2002-2003. The University currently operates in part with $1.2 billion from the state.
The increase in state money would aid the medical school, raise employee salaries and lessen the impact of the University’s health care costs.
Gov. Jesse Ventura has stated publicly his goal of trimming spending wherever possible.
Earlier this month in his State of the State address Ventura noted, “I’ve already shared with you that to win in this economy we must have the best work force. But let me add that in order to stay on top we must have a constant source of innovation. We have this in the University of Minnesota.”
Ventura went further: “With the right cohesion between Minnesota’s business community and the University of Minnesota, I believe we can make this success happen.”
With the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans and a Democratic majority in the Senate, Yudof will likely have to nurture bipartisan relationships to get the desired funding.
Yudof continues to face questions regarding the stadium debate.
Last week, the University president said he would not support a new stadium at the expense of academic priorities. Yudof said he will listen to proposals about the Metrodome and a joint-use stadium, but he has made clear his desire to shore up funding for the $1.4 billion general fund first.
According to the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Office, during his Jan. 8 meeting with the Higher Education Finance Committee Yudof said, “The idea of putting a stadium ahead of students and medical research is something I do not buy into. No part of our Capital Campaign is for a stadium.”
However, Yudof said he would consider pushing for financial help in building an on-campus, open-air football stadium if it was in addition to current University requests for funding.
Even so, the Minnesota Vikings have actively pursued the University in hopes of entering into a partnership for a domed stadium.
The Vikings are touting a stadium plan that could cost as much as $450 million. Franchise owner Red McCombs has pledged $100 million.
The Vikings have stressed publicly that a joint-stadium appeal to the Legislature — involving the Vikings and the University — would make the pitch more cohesive and attractive.
The Vikings have 11 years left on their current lease with the Metrodome.
University head football coach Glen Mason might also play a role in securing funding if the issue is pursued. Mason has been an outspoken advocate for an open-air complex on campus.
Mason has yet to clear up his situation with Ohio State University, which is considering him to be its next football coach.
Yudof is expected to go into more detail about academic funding priorities, and possibly the stadium issue, Monday when he addresses the House Higher Education Finance Committee.

George Fairbanks covers state legislative issues and welcomes comments at [email protected]