U officials round up support for 2001 legislative funding request

by Erin Ghere

University officials have been preparing for the 2001 legislative session since last spring, but with opening day less than a month away, they’re only beginning to promote issues on the University’s request.
After months of fine tuning the University’s legislative funding request, all officials can do now is wait to see what lawmakers will decide. But its a long wait — from the session’s opening day on Jan. 3 to mid-May.
In the meantime, University leaders are doing everything they can to drum up support for their funding request, said Donna Peterson, vice president for government relations.
During the next two weeks, nine University deans will travel around the state talking to legislators, state and local officials, members of the University’s grassroots legislative network, alumni and citizens about the benefits additional funding for the University would have on the state and their communities.
“Grassroots (efforts have) become a very important part of lobbying,” Peterson explained.
College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences Dean Charles Muscoplat will be among those visiting Chanhassen, Bemidji, Thief River Falls, Moorhead and Morris throughout the next eight days. Several deans already visited Winona, Red Wing, Waseca and Rosemount on Monday and Tuesday.
“This is one way we’re reaching out to communities touched by the University,” Muscoplat said.
Officials are informing people about the funding request with hopes of prompting constituents to call their legislators. Hearing from the public has an impact on how the University’s funding request is received by lawmakers, Peterson said.
This year, the University is asking for $221.5 million from the Legislature. In 1999, officials asked for $198.8 million for academic initiatives, but only received $103.9 million.
Included in that request was funding for faculty salaries similar to what the University is asking for this session.
The University submits a legislative request each year. Every odd-numbered year, the University asks for funding to support academic and future initiatives. Every even-numbered year, officials request money for facilities and structural initiatives.
Of the total, $150 million is being requested to maintain basic University programs and $71.5 million for future investments.
Included is funding for a 3 percent faculty raise, additional undergraduate research and study abroad opportunities, the rebuilding of the Medical School’s programs, and support for libraries, technological advancements and facilities.
The University is also seeking money to raise faculty salaries dramatically in an effort to stay competitive with other top research universities, and to expand health professional education and interdisciplinary academic initiatives.
As University officials travel around the state, they will highlight how this additional funding would aid the rest of the state, both by producing educated graduates and through the University’s outreach programs.
Certain University officials, such as deans from the Academic Health Center, will visit groups around the state interested in related areas, Peterson explained.
For instance, the budget request includes funding for expanding the University’s rural dentistry program, which could directly affect some outstate areas.
After the Legislature’s opening day, Peterson said the University’s work will start quickly. Officials are already preparing presentations for committee hearings throughout the session.
But, she said, there are always unexpected issues that crop up forcing University officials to constantly stay on their toes.
“It will be a very busy session,” she said.
Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]