Representatives gauge U’s bonding request

Legislators visited the St. Paul campus Thursday to assess state funding needs.

Mitchell Yurkowitz

Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives toured labs on the University’s St. Paul campus Thursday to evaluate whether buildings need state funding for expansion or upkeep.

Representatives said places on the St. Paul campus could benefit from the state funding for construction, but members must carefully select projects when drafting the chamber’s bonding bill because the state has many competing needs.

“It comes down to how big the bonding bill will be and how to prioritize projects,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who went on the tour with other members of the House’s Capital Investment Committee.

Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton released his nearly $1 billion bonding proposal with about $118 million recommended for University construction projects.

“When we talk about the bonding bill and we say Higher Ed is always the biggest part of the bonding bill, [it’s] because we are training the workforce of the future,” said committee Chair Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.

The governor’s proposal — which fell $114 million short of the University’s 2014 capital request — allocated $56.7 million to renovate the Tate Lab of Physics, $10 million for a new wellness center on the Crookston campus and $40 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funding.

During the tour, legislators visited the Bee Lab and the Sorensen Lab, which studies invasive aquatic species. Gov. Dayton’s bonding proposal included $12 million for the laboratory improvement fund, which fills the University’s request for the two projects.

“I can already say that I am strongly committed to all of the University’s requests. I feel very positively about all of the projects we saw [Thursday],” Hausman said.

The research facilities are currently operating in “pitiful circumstances,” she said, and they should get the funding because they are an essential part of the economic health and competitiveness of the state.

“[These labs] provide an opportunity for us to be regional and national leaders if we move ahead more quickly,” Hausman said.

Representatives also viewed a presentation Thursday on the potential construction of a new Microbial Sciences Research Building. The University requested $30 million for the lab, but Dayton did not recommend any state funds for it in his proposal.

He also didn’t allocate bonding dollars for a new Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials building on the Duluth campus, and he shorted the University’s HEAPR request by $60 million.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter previously told the Minnesota Daily the governor was unable to include all of the requested construction projects because of competing needs throughout the state, but that the governor tried to match the order in which the University ranked its requests.

University President Eric Kaler said earlier this month that the University plans to continue to work with state legislators this session to receive the total amount of funds requested.

Both the Minnesota House and Senate will create their own versions of the bonding bill when state legislators return for this month for the start of the session.

“This is about the economy.” Hausman said. “When you fund higher education, it is about the economy.”