Dayton’s plan gives $100M to University

Logan Wroge

Gov. Mark Dayton suggested appropriating $100 million to the University of Minnesota for a variety of projects in his bonding bill proposal released Tuesday. The governorâÄôs plan âÄî which goes beyond the UniversityâÄôs initial request of $77 million âÄî marks a strong investment in higher education, one that has been met with mixed reactions from lawmakers. The University originally requested $55 million in state funding for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, or HEAPR, which helps the institution maintain and upkeep its facilities. DaytonâÄôs bill would appropriate $70 million for HEAPR and an additional $30 million for three other construction projects. âÄúWeâÄôre extremely pleased that the governor was able to stretch further because our need is enormous in [HEAPR],âÄù said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the UniversityâÄôs chief financial officer. âÄúWe have always been making the case on how important that is.âÄù The UniversityâÄôs portion of the proposal, which Dayton calls his Jobs Bill, would go toward constructing two new veterinary isolation labs, replacing a greenhouse on the St. Paul campus, designing health science facilities and general maintenance and upkeep of buildings. The bill would also create 23,900 jobs according to an estimate from DaytonâÄôs office. âÄúThe governor is increasingly becoming an education governor,âÄù said Larry Jacobs, a University political science professor. âÄúHe realizes, as [Minnesota State Colleges and Universities] and the University have argued, that the best generator of jobs is investing in higher ed, and this is clearly a big investment in that.âÄù While Dayton has proposed a bonding bill, leadership in the House and Senate are conflicted on whether to pass a bill this year. His overall bonding plan calls for $842 million to fund construction projects that would improve infrastructure across the state. The total investment would be $1.2 billion with federal, state, local and private contributions combined. Traditionally, odd-number years are dedicated to passing the stateâÄôs budget, and even-number years focus on bonding bills. But in the last 32 years, only once did the Legislature not authorize any form of bonding, although the odd-number year bonds have been historically smaller. Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chair of the HouseâÄôs Capital Investment committee, said a bonding bill isnâÄôt necessary this year and legislators should instead focus on crafting the stateâÄôs budget. He said depending on the stateâÄôs needs, though, a bonding bill isnâÄôt completely off the table. âÄúWhile IâÄôm not, at this point, proposing [a bonding bill], I am certainly preparing for the eventuality that there might be one,âÄù Torkelson said. Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, chair of the SenateâÄôs Capital Investment committee, said thereâÄôs a real need for the continued maintenance of higher education institutions, parks and other facilities across the state. Stumpf said he plans to work on a bonding bill this session and hopes the House would work on at least a modest proposal as well. Jacobs said Dayton has traditionally opposed bonding to cover transportation costs, but the inclusion of bonds to support transportation in his current proposal is a way to invite Republican leaders to negotiate a further capital investment strategy. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who represents the UniversityâÄôs St. Paul campus, said the veterinary isolation laboratories should be a top priority this session because the space would help research animal diseases that impact MinnesotaâÄôs agricultural economy, such as the recent avian flu outbreak in the stateâÄôs turkey population. DaytonâÄôs proposal recommended $18 million in funding for the Veterinary Isolation FacilityâÄôs replacement. On Tuesday, Dayton said there were $1.9 billion in capital investment requests from across the state this year, adding that amount will likely double next year if no bonding bill is passed this session. âÄúThe University of Minnesota and the MnSCU systems will be that much farther behind in terms of their basic repairs and upkeep, not to mention the additional expansions and new projects that they want to fund,âÄù Dayton said at a conference.