U sees Capitol support

by Jim Hammerand

Nearly a year after legislative woes led to an eight-day partial state shutdown, the Legislature is moving at a fast clip toward early adjournment.

Most of the University’s pet projects look to be well-funded, although amendments to a Senate bill Wednesday could make an on-campus stadium more expensive for the state.

A bill introduced by Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, was amended Wednesday in the Finance Committee to prohibit financing an on-campus stadium through naming rights or student fees. The bill also was amended to remove the UMore Park land-transfer deal, which would have transferred 2,840 acres of University land to the state for an increased state contribution.

Instead, Pogemiller’s bill would have the state cover the students’ expected share before the land deal and the $35 million that the University expected to reap from a naming deal.

Pogemiller could not be reached for comment on the bill amendments.

‘As great an effort as you’ve ever seen’

This legislative session the University asked for $206.1 million for capital investments in the omnibus bonding bill, including one-time maintenance of buildings and construction of new facilities, and an additional public contribution of $124 million for an on-campus stadium.

House Speaker Steve Swiggum, R-Kenyon, said this legislative session would be more supportive of the University than any before.

“If you include the Gophers stadium with the bonding bill, this is probably as great an effort as you’ve ever seen with University support and projects,” Swiggum said.

So far the House has approved $121 million for University capital improvements and passed the stadium proposal. The Senate topped the House capital improvement borrowing by $32 million and has yet to vote on the stadium proposal.

Legislators have not yet fully committed to any of the projects. There are still kinks between the House and Senate bonding bills that need to be worked out in conference committee.

The on-campus football stadium is one of three stadiums the Legislature is considering, the others being a Twins ballpark and a stadium for the Vikings.

Swiggum called support of an on-campus stadium significant, as long as it isn’t grouped with the other two stadiums.

“We are told that it is going to move separately in the Senate, and if it does move on its own, there is a very, very real chance that the Gopher stadium will become a reality,” Swiggum said.

Financing for the 50,000 seat stadium would come from several places. Edina Republican Sen. Geoff Michel, author of a bill in the Senate closely resembling the bill the House already passed, would have the state cover half of the $248 million stadium price tag. University students would kick in an additional $25 in fees per semester, and TCF Financial has offered to pay $35 million for “TCF Bank Stadium” naming rights.

At a Higher Education Budget Division meeting in March, Pogemiller said he would like to see a stadium built, but without a corporate brand.

“I’ve always been in favor of (an on-campus) stadium, but I have a different view of how it should be paid for,” Pogemiller said.

Capital investment bill

The capital investment bonding bills allow the state to issue debt to pay for infrastructure improvements statewide, including University projects. Both chambers have allotted funding for a medical research building, expanding the Carlson School of Management and replacing the Science Classroom Building with a building housing science labs and Student Services.

Funding for these projects differs between the chambers, sometimes by tens of millions of dollars, but Sen. Keith Langseth, Capital Investment Committee chairman, said these discrepancies shouldn’t be taken as a sign of abandonment.

“The Senate was very much for the (Duluth) business school, but we’re trying to figure out how we could squeeze everything in there, and by keeping half of the request for the business school, it keeps it alive,” said Langseth, DFL-Glyndon.

It’s a game of pick and choose that will be resolved in a conference committee of House and Senate members chosen specifically for the task by legislative leadership.

“Everything that the University requested is covered in one bill or another, to commit to its final passage is probably further than I can go right now,” Swiggum said.