Committee settles on$36 million

oralie Carlson

After deliberating for three weeks over the higher education supplemental spending bill, a legislative conference committee wrote the University a $36 million check Monday for faculty raises and classroom upgrades.
House and Senate conferees sent the bill to both floors where lawmakers will be able to approve or reject, but not amend. With the leadership of the two bodies on board, it will likely pass before a Thursday deadline and head to a supportive governor’s desk.
The bill also distributes a $13.5 million Pell Grant installment from the federal government, which needed state action for students to reap the reward. In addition, the committee derailed plans to change the regent selection process and erased provisions to create a formal coalition between research at the University and area businesses.
Of the $36 million included in the bill, about $23.6 million comes in the form of recurring funds, which the University will receive every year for personnel and academic initiatives. The remaining $12.4 million is a one time allocation for classroom improvements and new equipment. Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said his goal this session was to increase the recurring funds.
“This is a historic bill; it is the largest supplemental budget I’ve seen,” said Pelowski, who chaired the conference committee and has served in the Legislature since 1987. The University had requested $41.5 million.
Richard Pfutzenreuter, University vice president for Budget and Finance, was all smiles Monday night. While calling the final version “a good bill,” he said the Board of Regents and University President Mark Yudof would be very pleased.
By far the biggest stumbling block throughout the process dealt with financial aid. Amid private meetings and heavy lobbying, disputes over financial aid dominated committee meetings last week and stalled a final decision until Monday.
Pell grants pay up to 50 percent of eligible students’ college costs. Conferees took the Senate’s advice and increased that amount to 53 percent instead of backing a House plan to give eligible students $300 apiece.
This could be the main area of contention when the bill goes to the floor. Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, sponsored the House plan and tried to revive it with an amendment Monday. Carlson said he wouldn’t support the final supplemental package.
“You reach a point where you are not going to get three votes on each side,” Pelowski said, explaining why he strayed from the House proposal, which had the backing of the Student Legislative Coalition and other student groups.
Conferees decided to keep current regent selection procedures intact instead of adopting a change pushed by the Alumni Association. Earlier this year, an ad hoc committee with members from both chambers agreed on a plan to abolish district-based selection for regent members, instead choosing candidates from metro-area and greater-Minnesota distinctions.
But the Senate never voted on the bill on the floor, which led to its demise in the conference committee.