U funding could be cut

If passed in the House and signed into law, a bill might cut funding by $42 million.

by Courtney Blanchard

The Minnesota House is expected to introduce a bill today that includes funding for the University.

Lawmakers in the House have been tight-lipped about specifics of the plan as they struggled to pull together a bill after the Senate passed its version last Thursday.

The Senate voted down amendments to its version of the bill to implement a tuition freeze, add money for veterans’ scholarships and remove a provision similar to the federal DREAM Act, which would allow children of undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition rates.

The Senate passed a bill Thursday to appropriate nearly $140 million out of the University’s request of $182 million after nearly two hours of debate.

The University might receive about $42 million less in funding if the House bill matches the Senate version, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs it into law.

According to University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University would have to cut or freeze certain programs, and students could see tuition increase by 5.5 percent next year.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL- St. Paul, said the state didn’t have enough money to fund new initiatives and cover inflation.

“Our hope was to hold down tuition,” she said. “We hope by holding down inflation, increases will be in the 4 to 5 percent range.”

The debate went beyond tuition hikes, however, as lawmakers argued over several amendments to the bill.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R- Maple Grove, criticized lawmakers for including only a third of Pawlenty’s $30 million recommendation for a Minnesota GI Bill to provide scholarships to troops returning from active duty.

The Senate appropriation would provide a maximum of $1,000 per semester to recipients.

“We want to make sure soldiers get access,” he said.

Limmer offered an amendment to shuffle money from the financial aid program to the GI Bill, but it failed.

Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, said, “Everyone would love to put a lot more money into the Minnesota GI Bill … but we all know we have to be responsible in our budgeting.”

Senators also argued about whether to include the Dream Act. Currently, noncitizens who attended at least three years of high school and graduated still have to pay nonresident tuition to attend the University, which is $11,630 more per year.

Pappas said the provision would not cost the state additional money and would affect about 500 students.

“Yes, their parents are undocumented, but they have no control over that,” she said. “At some point, they find out that they can’t go to college because they have to pay the … nonresident rate.”

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R- Alexandria, said once undocumented students graduate from college, they would still be unable to legally get a job in the state and the measure could draw undocumented immigrants to the state.

“If we allow this … we may just be opening the door to other out-of-state folks coming to our state and us having to allow them in-state tuition,” he said.

Some senators said the Dream Act’s inclusion could prompt a veto by the governor, and such a provision had no place in an appropriations bill.

Nevertheless, the amendment to strip the provision out of the bill failed.

An amendment that would freeze tuition increases at Minnesota’s higher education institutions also failed after senators argued about how to balance affordability with the ability to provide sufficient state funds to schools.

Lawmakers in the House hope to get their version of the bill into the finance committee by Monday afternoon. They had not set a target date for a floor vote.