U outlines finances at Capitol, lawmakers skeptical

One rep said the U needs to show more examples of where it’s struggling.

by Jessica Lee

University of Minnesota administrators are becoming regulars at the state Capitol, and legislators aren’t holding back.

In the continued effort of petitioning for state funds, administrators are presenting overviews of the University to prepare the lawmakers for the school’s official budget request in the coming weeks.

House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Chair Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, along with other members, grilled the University officials Monday about student debt, tuition and excessive spending — a conversation that will continue for weeks.

“Legislative oversight is an on-going duty of the Legislature,” Pelowski said in a statement. “Before we can determine whether the current budget requests for more state revenue are valid, we have to understand where current and past state revenues have been spent.”

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the conversation about freezing tuition should be discussed openly, “flat, square in the middle of the table.”

Pelowski criticized the University’s approach with legislators thus far.

“The University of Minnesota has apparently no problem, in the course of any legislative session, showing us how successful it has been in any given area,” said Pelowski at the committee meeting Monday. “Where it appears to have great difficulty is showing us where it’s had to make tough choices.”

He said he wants to forego the “ra-ra … glittering, sparkling snowflakes” of the University and look at where the University is hurting and at what’s being overlooked.

Pfutzenreuter said more details about the University’s spending will be presented in future hearings.

The University has faced scrutiny from legislators and constituents alike since being deemed an example of administrative bloat in a December Wall Street Journal article.

That said, the request for an 8.4 percent increase in state funding comes at an unfortunate time.

The University budget request depends on a data-driven, in-depth analysis of administrative costs, requested by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, that will be presented by March 15 for lawmakers to review.

Gov. Mark Dayton allotted the University an $80 million increase for tuition relief and research in his state budget proposal last week.

Monday’s meeting will reconvene Wednesday, and the committee will look at the House’s research on the election process for the University’s regents and more details regarding the institution’s spending.