House bonding bill backs extra higher ed funds

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Minnesota House Republicans laid their blueprints on the table for a state bonding bill, providing $100 million more for higher education than the governor’s proposal.

House Republican leadership released a bill Thursday proposing $737 million worth of projects for the state.

The House’s bill suggests spending less than both the Senate’s $1.1 billion and Gov. Jesse Ventura’s $845 million.

“There are priorities within this, such as higher education,” said Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St.Cloud and Capital Investment Committee chairman.

On the University front, the Senate approved all 16 requested projects, while the House set aside money for nine. The governor’s plan slates money for seven University projects.

“I would have liked to have seen more funded,” said Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley and chairwoman of the Higher Education Finance Committee. “These are really hard decisions to have to make.”

The bill is expected to reach the House floor Wednesday.

University President Mark Yudof said he was grateful to the House for the funding it proposed and said he would be in touch with policy-makers to answer questions and supply supplemental information. He said he also encourages students to get involved in the process.

“The House did well by us,” Yudof said, “but we need to nudge them along a little bit.”

Some legislators said they also wanted to see a House bill more congruent with the Senate’s.

“Only part of the University’s request was granted,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal. “I wish we could have been able to see a bill more reflective of the University’s requests.”

With interest rates as low as they are, Carlson said he thought using more bonds to pay for more projects would help stimulate the economy through an increase in construction jobs.

“With the interest rates so low, there is a target of opportunity to respond to needed projects across the state,” he said. “It would contribute toward economic recovery and create more jobs.”

John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman, said the governor thinks both bodies of legislation have suggested bonding too much money in light of the $2.3 billion budget deficit.

Ventura has said he would like to propose a new bill closer to $500 million for state building projects.

“It would be difficult to approve a bonding bill if they haven’t identified how we’d pay back the bonds,” Wodele said. “We can’t be fiscally irresponsible. We aren’t through with the recession yet; we can’t spend money if you can’t afford to.”

After passing the House floor, the bill will go to conference committee, where it is expected to come out somewhere between the two suggestions.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon and chairman of the Capital Investment Committee, said he thinks the final version will total approximately $1 billion, with more money going toward higher education.

Leppik said she is hopeful the negotiations will prove beneficial for University projects.

“If the conference committee is true to form there will be more spending there,” Leppik said. “But there are no guarantees it’ll go to higher education.”