Bond request

Coralie Carlson

While dealing the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system a $40 million setback, a House committee approved Wednesday the University’s budget request in its entirety.
The House Higher Education Finance Division unanimously adopted a report which included $249 million in the University’s request and an additional $3 million for women’s athletic facilities recommended by Gov. Arne Carlson.
“This is historical. This is the largest bonding bill they’ve passed since I’ve been here,” said committee chairman Rep. Gene Pelowski, now serving his sixth term.
The division report also erased a provision which would require the University to pay one-third of the bonding debt over a 20-year period. Instead, the state would repay all of the bonding money. House members have consistently argued against charging the University, because that burden could be passed on to students through tuition hikes.
Committee members also ranked the items in the bonding request. The rankings make it easier for future committees to phase out projects they deem unnecessary.
Although nothing was cut from the University proposal, the committee reduced the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities request by $40 million, slashing Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement appropriations for general building repair.
For the University, general building repair projects received top priority from the committee. Historical restoration building projects, such as Walter Library and Murphy and Ford halls, were highly ranked.
“The theme of this presentation was historic preservation,” Pelowski said.
Rep. Hilda Bettermann, R-Brandon, proposed omitting funds for the construction of the Molecular and Cellular Biology building, women’s softball and soccer facilities and Bierman center offices from the division report. Such deletions would have reduced the University request by $64.5 million.
While the report contains those construction provisions, they were given the lowest priority.
Carlson and University officials have pushed strongly for the Molecular and Cellular Biology building in their proposals because they hope it will help make the school a leader in those fields. Pelowski noted planning funds for the building were given high priority, but it is unusual for the committee to approve planning and construction funds in the same session.
University officials refused to rank the request; instead they pushed for the entire bonding package. Richard Pfutzenreuter, assistant vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance, said the ranking will not matter if the University gets everything it hopes for.
“I’m just not going to participate in seeing it picked apart,” said University President Mark Yudof of the ranking process.
Without formal input from University officials, Pelowski and Bettermann gave the projects priority based on the testimony given by Yudof and other administrators at committee meetings.
Even with Wednesday’s success, University officials still have many barriers ahead. Today the division report will be presented to the full education committee and, if approved, it could move to the Capital Investment Committee as soon as Friday. Each of the committees has the authority to amend the division report, which will become part of a larger bonding bill.
Once the bill is introduced on the floor of the House, it must win a “super majority,” or three-fifths of the votes.
The largest battle will occur between the House and the Senate, said Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth. The Senate expects a much smaller bonding request, a total of $500 million for all state bonding projects, compared to more than $856 million in the House.
If the House and Senate cannot come to an agreement, the bill will die in committee and no one will receive any bonding money, Huntley said.
To Yudof, such an outcome would be a bitter break. “I’m fighting as hard as I can to have a once-in-a-generation-type breakthrough,” he said.