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University of Minnesota supplemental budget funding left out of omnibus bills

The House and Senate higher education committees did not fund the University’s request in their spending bills.
The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2013.
Image by Bridget Bennett, Daily File Photo
The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2013.

The Minnesota House and Senate higher education committees passed their omnibus spending bills last week, which did not include funding for the University of Minnesota’s supplemental budget request.

The University asked lawmakers for a $10 million annual investment in its supplemental budget request, which school officials said would freeze tuition for undergraduate resident students in the next academic year. After House and Senate Republicans released their budget targets earlier this month, both higher education committees had to decide how additional allocations should be spent.

The House Ways and Means committee passed a higher education budget target of an additional $5 million for the next fiscal year. The omnibus bill currently allots that funding to a cybersecurity program update for Metropolitan State University.

“I wouldn’t say [cybersecurity] was the priority, but when you have a number that small, you have to work with what you have,” said Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chair of the House higher education committee.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, introduced an amendment at the House higher education committee’s omnibus bill hearing on Wednesday that would divide the $5 million between the University and Minnesota State systems for tuition relief. The amendment failed on a roll call vote.

While the amendment was an attempt to aid the University’s tuition relief efforts, the budget target is too low for it to have a significant impact, Pelowski said.

“Unfortunately, when you’re looking at the University and [Minnesota] State, $5 million doesn’t go very far,” Pelowski said. “For instance it doesn’t freeze tuition, and it doesn’t stop increases in student debt.”

The University’s request would help offset between $12 million and $15 million in budget cuts over the next year, said University Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Brian Burnett at the House hearing.

Burnett said it would also prevent undergraduate resident tuition from increasing by $200 to $250 next academic year.

“We were disappointed the House did not include resources for tuition relief in [its] higher education supplemental bill. Without this investment, it puts additional pressure on our budget,” he said.

The Senate’s budget targets do not allow for any surplus funding toward higher education.

Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, proposed an amendment at a Senate higher education committee hearing last week that would fund the University’s full request. The amendment failed on roll call.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who voted against the amendment, said the funding is not within the state’s budget.

“I think we highly value the U. And just because we don’t support plus or minus $10 million [doesn’t mean] we don’t see it as a leader of the state, and it isn’t like we don’t give them any money and they’re without resources,” Abeler said at the hearing.

Isaacson said the state could fund the $10 million if higher education was a priority.

“If you support the U, you would vote for things that support the U,” he said. “You can’t support the U and then vote for a budget that limits the funding they need.”

The Senate and House omnibus bills did include $1 million each in grant money to go toward loan forgiveness programs and a loan counseling program for Minnesota students, among other things.

The House bills also included policies that would require the University to report sexual harassment and assault data to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

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