Higher-ed bill gets closer to passing

The Senate bill gives $121 million more than the University received last budget.

Brady Averill

The higher education bill moved forward Friday after a Senate committee and the House passed their versions of the bill.

The House passed its bill 73-60.

The Senate Finance Committee’s bill gives the University approximately $1.22 billion, whereas the House bill appropriates approximately $1.20 billion.

The University requested $1.29 billion.

The Senate bill appropriates $121 million more than the University received for its last two-year budget – a few million short of the University’s requested increase of $126 million. The House bill gives approximately $102 million more than the University received last time.

The full Senate will likely vote on the higher education bill this week. If it passes, members from both chambers will reconcile the differences in conference committee.

University officials have said they approve of the Senate bill.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said last week that the House version of the bill shortchanged the University because of a $15 million appropriation for the University-Mayo Clinic biotechnology genomics partnership. The University did not ask for the $15 million for the partnership in its two-year budget request.

Frank Cerra, the University’s Academic Health Center senior vice president, said last week at a House committee meeting that taking the money away from the University’s core programs would “impede” the institution.

Pfutzenreuter has said that if the $15 million appropriation stays intact – money Gov. Tim Pawlenty included in his budget recommendation – students could see a 9.5 percent tuition increase in 2006 and a 5.5 percent increase in 2007.

Previously, officials said that if the Legislature met the University’s request, tuition increases would likely be approximately 5.5 percent in both 2006 and 2007.

During the Senate Finance Committee meeting Friday, Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said that in the past, legislators have not paid close attention to higher education.

However, he said, he and Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who authored the bill, worked hard to fulfill the requests of higher education institutions.

“We didn’t quite succeed. We’ve come close,” Cohen said.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chief author of the House bill, has said the bill is reversing a trend of not investing well in higher education.

Language in the two bills also appropriates money for a committee to plan a new university in Rochester, Minn.

It authorizes the Higher Education Services Office to renegotiate Minnesota’s reciprocity agreement with nearby states as well.

The bills also give the office the green light to form a task force to review the way higher education is funded in Minnesota.

In Pawlenty’s State of the State address in January, he asked the office to review the way higher education is funded. He voiced approval of a model in which funding follows the student through a voucher system.