State bonding bill may not fund the UMN’s infrastructure needs

Walz’s capital investment proposal looks promising for University, but lawmakers say funding isn’t certain.

by Isabella Murray

While initial proposals by DFL Gov. Tim Walz fund a large part of the University of Minnesota’s infrastructure needs, lawmakers say the school might not be in a bonding bill at all.

Walz presented his capital investment proposal on Feb. 26, which would have provided nearly two-thirds of the University’s $232.2 million bonding request. But Walz’s biennial budget proposal would only cover around one-third of the University’s $87 million budget request, which officials say will result in tuition increases

Minnesota Office of Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson said the infrastructure funding is a more holistic approach to state higher education. 

“Over the last 30 years, there have only been two years that haven’t had a bonding bill,” Olson said. “The governor feels that these proposed bonding investments really kind of complete the total investment.”

Of the $1.27 billion proposal, the portion for higher education is the second-highest expected allocation, with $300 million split evenly between the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State systems. 

But lawmakers say a large bonding bill isn’t likely this year, leaving the University with little help from the state. 

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, chair of the capital investment committee, said a small bonding bill is likely, but the University may not see any funding. 

“We may have a small bill,” Senjem said. “At least for the University of Minnesota and their bonding projects, along with many many other cities, agencies and so on and so forth, they’re probably going to have to wait until next year.”

Senjem said the Senate capital investment committee estimates it can only allocate $167 million worth of bonding projects. 

“That can get consumed rather quickly,” he said. 

Myron Frans, Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, told the Minnesota Daily in an emailed statement that Walz is “seriously considering a bonding bill this year.” However, larger bonding bills are traditionally produced in even-number years.  

Republican lawmakers have been critical of the potential bonding package. 

“You’ve got a lot of square footage for both of them to maintain. But it’s not a bonding year per se,” Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said. “We did a lot of bonding the past two years. We’ve got to pay for that. We’re spending over a billion dollars a year on that debt service, and where is this money going to come from?”

Walz recommended $117.7 million of the University’s $200 million for higher education asset preservation and replacement request. His proposal also fully funds the $4.3 million renovations to A.B. Anderson Hall on the Duluth campus.

Walz’s full funding for the $28 million Institute of Child Development facility replacement project is also a  significant investment in the University, Olson said. 

“It’s certainly a jewel for the University of Minnesota as well as the state, and really a nation-leading program. That was one of the priorities for the governor, in addition to A.B. Anderson hall on the Duluth campus,” Olson said.