Key lawmakers reach deal on U budget reduction

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, and Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, have shaken hands and decided on final cuts for the University.

In a private meeting Tuesday, chairwomen Wiener and Leppik, of the Senate and House higher education finance committees, decided to cut state allocations to the University by $23.6 million for fiscal year 2003 and $25.5 million for fiscal year 2004.

“Rep. Leppik and I committed to higher education,” Wiener said. “There were differences in our respective bills, but we reached a compromise. It was give and take.”

In the search for solutions to the forecasted $1.95 billion state budget deficit, the House, Senate and Gov. Jesse Ventura had all proposed how much the University should have to shoulder in the statewide cuts.

The agreement between the legislators was a compromise between the Senate’s $25 million planned cut to the University and the House’s $19.5 million. The Legislature is expected to approve a total of $50 million in overall cuts for state higher education systems, including the University.

One of the key differences in the proposals brought forth by Leppik and Wiener was how much to allocate to MnLink, a program of online library services.

The House suggested a $4.3 million MnLink cut. After discussion, Wiener and Leppik agreed to only cut $822,000 from the program.

Wiener said she wanted more money to be allocated to MnLink and financial aid.

“We reached an agreement to put more money into financial aid because more students will be needing it in the future,” she said.

The House and Senate have also reached an agreement on the entire supplemental operating budget, making a total of $374.3 million in permanent cuts from state agencies for fiscal year 2002-03.

Neither body plans to raise taxes to make up for the budget shortfall.

Ventura’s suggestions meant a $33 million cut to the University, $32 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and various sales tax increases across the state.

Leppik and Wiener’s higher education decisions will go to a conference committee Wednesday and to the House and Senate floors for votes Thursday. At that point the bill will be sent to Ventura who will have three days to sign or veto the legislation.

Legislators are hopeful that even if the governor rejects the bill, legislative support will override his veto.

Making funding cuts has been difficult for many legislators, said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.

“Both of the plans for higher education are bad,” Sviggum said. “They have to make a decision between bad and worse.”

Wiener said that although she is not happy with the cuts, she is glad the decisions have been made and a compromise was reached.

“We’ve finally locked arms and figured out how to act as a legislative body and get along,” Wiener said. “I’m not happy with any cuts, but I’m satisfied that we’re coming to a resolution.”

In other Capitol news, the Senate Tax Committee heard bill proposals from the Stadium Task Force Committee and legislators about stadium projects for the Minnesota Twins baseball team and the Vikings and Gophers football teams.

Committee members will be voting on the bills Thursday and hope to pass them on to the Senate floor by next week.

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the state Legislature and welcomes comments at [email protected]