Wanted: A Legislature on the move

The University needs support this year from the Legislature on many projects.

On Wednesday the Minnesota Legislature began its first 2006 session with great ceremony. Committees began meeting and House members introduced 514 bills. But the committee that University students and employees should keep a close eye on, the State Higher Education Committee, will meet Thursday to begin discussing the millions of dollars in projects and bonding requests from the state colleges and universities.

The University’s request for this year is $206.1 million for renovation and construction projects. Projects on the Twin Cities campuses include demolishing and replacing the Science Classroom Building – a “temporary” building forced into full service – as well as an additional Carlson School of Management building for undergraduate students (the facility can only accommodate 12 percent of its applicants), a new biomedical sciences building and numerous updates and renovations to existing buildings. The University will contribute an additional $63 million.

In January Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommended that the state give the University only $127.6 million – less than half the proposal. The University asks for bonding capital in even-numbered years, and getting projects approved often takes multiple cycles. If the Legislature is serious about keeping tuition costs low and keeping the University accessible to Minnesotans, these projects are important to fund.

Also on the table will be proposals to subsidize an on-campus stadium for the Gophers football team, as well as a $330 million bond fund for the “Minnesota Biomedical Sciences Research Facilities Authority,” a group that, over the course of a decade, would approve state funding for five biomedical research facilities and keep Minnesota on the cutting edge in this area.

While the Legislature has thousands of areas to consider when passing bills and handing out money, it cannot afford to shortchange the University again. These projects are vital to keeping the University accessible to as many Minnesotans as possible, as well as maintain its credibility as a top public research institution. It’s time to really get something done for “U.”