U lobbies for bonding bills

Stephanie Kudrle

The University’s capital bonding request gained extra momentum last week after a Senate committee recommended funding the full amount.

The Senate Higher Education Budget Division suggested the University receive the full $155.5 million for building improvements on its campuses.

With capital request recommendations from Gov. Tim Pawlenty and committees in the House and Senate already announced, University lobbyists said they are kicking their efforts into high gear so the request stays on legislators’ minds.

Pawlenty released his recommendations for the University’s request in February, suggesting the state fund $76.6 million of the bonding package.

The House Higher Education Finance Committee recommended $149.3 million of the University’s capital bonding request in early March.

The cuts made were for the Carlson School of Management’s expansion plan and projects from the Morris and Duluth campuses.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the Higher Education Budget Division, said the committee unanimously recommended full $155.5 million funding for the University because it was necessary.

“We want the University to continue to be a first-class institution,” Pappas said. “It was a reasonable request.”

Sen. Bob Kierlin, R-Winona, said the capital investment committees in both chambers will now look at the recommendations and suggest their own versions of the bill.

After the House and Senate settle on an amount, he said, it will go to a conference committee so each chamber passes an identical bill.

Kierlin, who sits on the capital investment committee, said it is unlikely the University will receive full funding in the end.

“We try to take all of the requests into consideration,” he said. “But we can’t do everything.”

University officials said they are pleased with the House and Senate recommendations and their lobbying efforts so far.

Donna Peterson, associate vice president for government relations, said University President Bob Bruininks made numerous presentations promoting the University’s capital bonding request to House and Senate committees.

She said members from the Senate capital investment committee also toured campus in the summer to see the projects firsthand.

Peterson said the University has to step up its lobbying efforts in the next few weeks before the legislative session ends in early May.

“Just because they’ve released their recommendations, it doesn’t mean that is what’s going to be in the final bill,” she said.

Mike Dean, grassroots coordinator for the Legislative Network, said the network has focused on lobbying capital investment committee members.

“They’re the ones who will be making the decisions,” Dean said. “Our efforts are going to be extremely important.”

He said students, faculty and alumni have been calling, e-mailing and visiting legislators.

“We need to make sure we get the full request,” he said.