Freeze is feasible for senators

State officials are divided over whether to fund a tuition freeze at the University of Minnesota.
 
As lawmakers in the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives are omitting the school’s wish to hold tuition rates flat in their budget plans, legislators in the Senate are hoping to provide the school some of its requested state dollars. 
 
The higher education committee in the Senate, which has a Democratic-Farmer-Labor party majority, unanimously heard and passed a bill Tuesday that would provide funding for freezing tuition for resident undergraduate, graduate and professional students improving the Medical School and furthering research on
Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases.
 
A separate proposal in the House introduced Monday doesn’t set aside additional funding for the University and provides $105 million in tuition relief for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. 
 
Though the Senate’s proposal doesn’t fully fund the University’s $65.2 million request to freeze tuition over the next two years, the University’s chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said at Tuesday’s meeting the amount would keep resident undergraduate tuition flat. 
 
And if that’s the final amount allocated, he said the school would reconsider its plans to cover a similar freeze for resident graduate and professional students.
 
Both the House and the Senate proposals fall short of what Gov. Mark Dayton proposed in his budget recommendations that were released earlier this year. Dayton said in February that he plans to cover the entire cost of the University’s request to freeze tuition, as a result of the state’s nearly $2 billion surplus.
 
The Senate plan would also increase funding for state grants, offer two years of community or technical college for free to qualified applicants, impose new performance metrics on the University and fund other projects.
 
“We should invest prudently in the University of Minnesota,” Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Then we should demand outcomes and accountabilities.”
 
One amendment was made to the Senate’s proposal that would allow the University to refinance remaining bonds issued for construction of TCF Bank Stadium, which Pfutzenreuter said at the meeting would save the school about $40 million.
 
The amendment specifies that $10 million of those savings would go toward designing medical facilities.
 
The House’s separate budget plan — which could lead to tuition hikes next year because it doesn’t offer new funding for the University — has faced criticism from some Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators and University administrators.
 
“It’s very disappointing that the House is choosing not to prioritize tuition affordability,” University  President Eric Kaler said in a press release. “If a zero-percent increase stands, we are left with no choice but to raise tuition.”
 
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said while prioritizing where higher education funding should go, lawmakers behind the proposal decided that there was greater need within MnSCU.
 
Bonoff said the Senate bill will get another hearing on Friday. After that, she said she expects it to reach the Senate floor next week for a full vote.
 
The House higher education committee will discuss and vote on its budget proposal Wednesday.
 
After both higher education committees pass their all-encompassing budget bills, lawmakers will have until the end of the session on May 18 to finalize the University’s funding amounts.