Endowment agreement of Legislature keeps Academic Health Center in line for funding

Erin Ghere

Students and University officials alike can be grateful to the state Legislature for putting money back into their pockets.
In a surprising turn of events Tuesday, Gov. Jesse Ventura, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, announced the basics of an agreement that will refund tax payers $1.3 billion, reduce income tax, fund light rail and develop health-related endowments.
The specifics of the endowments and tax relief have been left up to the conference committees to settle.
So for now, University officials are still playing the waiting game.
Legislators have until Monday at midnight to finish all business and end the 1999 session.
Funding for the Academic Health Center is expected to be achieved through a medical education research cost endowment, although legislators have yet to decide how much the University will receive.
The Legislature has set aside $968 million for four endowments created from tobacco settlement money.
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, funding for the health center was split up between $6 million in the House’s higher education bill and endowment funding in the Senate’s health and human services bill.
A family foundation endowment, a smoking prevention endowment and a senior prescription drug endowment will also receive funding, said Jim McGreevy, a representative for Moe.
Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, said funding for the Academic Health Center has not been discussed in the health and human services committee yet, but said he is reasonably sure it will come out of endowment funds.
As a result, it will free up the $6 million in the House higher education bill for allocation to other areas. University officials could indirectly benefit from the agreement if those funds are allocated to University programs.
Samuelson said he did not expect a vote from the health and human services committee until Monday, but the endowment amounts are expected to be announced by the end of the week, McGreevy said.
“We’re deeply appreciative of the fact that the governor, the House and the Senate agreed to set aside almost a billion dollars for endowments and hope that a significant share of it goes to the Academic Health Center,” said Chris Roberts, spokeswoman for the Academic Health Center.
As the University sits on pins and needles in anticipation, taxpayers already know about how much the Legislature will be giving them.
Most students will receive between $217 and $492 in refund money, totalling $2.9 billion. Married students who filed taxes with their spouse will receive larger refunds.
Taxpayers can expect to receive refunds, which are based on income level, in the mail at the end of the summer or beginning of the fall.
Also included in the agreement is an income-tax cut and light-rail funding. Every income bracket will have their tax rate cut by 0.5 percent, making it the largest tax cut in state history. Light rail was allotted $60 million derived from state bonds.
Ventura had threatened a government shutdown earlier this week if legislators did not come to an agreement and finish the session on time. Tuesday’s agreement almost ensures they will finish Monday.
The announcement came a mere 24 hours after Sviggum said the House would not agree to any endowments, and discussions were at an impasse.