Budget uncertainty at Capitol unfounded

by Stacy Jo

When University officials were drafting the legislative budget request in November, they didn’t know what to expect from a Reform Party governor.
As it turns out, many regents concluded, Gov. Jesse Ventura’s party affiliation didn’t seem to play a significant role at all.
“That’s the beauty of the governor. There’s not much politics involved,” said Regent David Metzen.
Ventura presented his budget recommendations to the Legislature on Jan. 28. Friday’s Board of Regents meeting marked the first time the full board has had the opportunity to discuss the governor’s suggestions.
Ventura recommended funding 80 percent of the University’s $198.8 million request.
The Legislature will take into account Ventura’s recommendations when it drafts the final budget in April, which then has to be signed or vetoed by Ventura.
In his discussion with the regents, University President Mark Yudof expressed his overall satisfaction with the governor’s recommendations.
“I view this as a very sympathetic budget to the University,” Yudof said.
The president said he thinks the governor recognized the importance of all five initiatives the University’s budget outlined — increasing faculty and staff salaries, improving resources for undergraduates, financing health professional education, improving outreach programs and enhancing the University’s facilities.
While he said the priorities of the governor and the University don’t appear to conflict, Yudof noted he had hoped for better support in increasing staff pay.
The University asked for a 5 percent pay increase for staff and faculty. The governor recommended a 5 percent increase for faculty, but only a 3 percent raise for staff.
“They fell a little short,” said Regent William Peterson.
Regents said University officials will push for the 5 percent across-the-board increase in subsequent presentations to the Legislature.
Despite that minor disagreement, however, the overwhelming reaction to Ventura’s recommendations was positive.
For example, the governor supported funding to hire 100 new full-time faculty, an initiative that Yudof has been strongly advocating.
Yudof and the regents also discussed the governor’s plan to establish a $350 million endowment to support health professional education and medical research. Ventura has said publicly the money for that fund, which would generate $19.5 million annually in interest, would likely come from last year’s $7 billion tobacco settlement.
During Friday’s meeting, Regent Robert Bergland asked Yudof how the Legislature has responded to the governor’s budget recommendations so far. Yudof said although it’s too soon to say anything for certain, legislators and the public both seem to support the medical research endowment.
“I think we’ve got a very good chance,” Yudof said of the budget request.
Bergland noted that the governor’s proposals are not the final word on how much funding the University will receive from the state. With the adjusting that legislators are bound to do, the University still might see the 5 percent staff compensation increase, he said.
“I’ve never seen a Legislature that would take the executive’s budget intact,” Bergland said. “But we know that the governor’s recommendations will carry a lot of weight.”