Shutdown could halt U’s time-sensitive projects

The University would not receive the monthly payments the state contributes to its budget.

Megan Nicolai

As a possible shutdown of MinnesotaâÄôs government approaches, construction on campus could come to a halt, delaying the completion of projects like Folwell Hall.

University of Minnesota officials are bracing for the possible effects but donâÄôt yet know the full extent of a shutdownâÄôs impact.

âÄúWeâÄôre a $3-plus billion corporation,âÄù said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the UniversityâÄôs chief financial officer. âÄúWe have hundreds of obligations. We just canâÄôt interrupt those activities.âÄù

Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders are meeting privately to lay groundwork for nine budget bills, including the higher education budget that funds the University.

If the state Legislature cannot finalize the budgets in a special session by the end of the month, the state would go into a partial government shutdown until the bills are signed.

The University normally receives a monthly appropriation from the state, but those payments would be suspended during a shutdown until a budget is finalized. The state provides the University with nearly 19 percent of its annual budget.

Construction projects, such as the work on Washington Avenue for the Central Corridor light rail and new biomedical buildings, could be halted as soon as a shutdown begins in July, Pfutzenreuter said. Many of the construction sites scattered around campus could be temporarily abandoned âÄî many projects are funded partially or fully by the state.

The $34 million renovation of Folwell Hall, set to be completed in August, would be put on hold because the project is funded by both the University and the state, he said.

Pfutzenreuter said the University could manage a halt in appropriations through the summer, but temporary layoffs or delaying research may be necessary if a shutdown were to extend into the fall.

âÄúAny kind of shutdown is a deadly spiral for us,âÄù but University officials are prepared to do anything to ensure the school opens normally in September, he said.

Other payments to the University could be temporarily suspended as well: The state Legislature withheld $89 million last fall to cover its own expenditures. The sum was meant to be returned at the end of June, but a shutdown would mean another delay.

University officials would be careful to avoid impacting groups like students, researchers or programs like clinical care, Pfutzenreuter said.

The fates of other services University students rely on are less clear in a long-term shutdown.

Many student education-funding programs, such as the Minnesota State Grant Program, the work-study program and Student Educational Loan Fund program would be suspended and wouldnâÄôt provide any aid to students during a shutdown, Tricia Grimes, the senior legislative liaison with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said.

âÄúWe are always very concerned with trying to get financial aid funds to students in an efficient and effective manner,âÄù Grimes said, but OHE employees may be laid off during a shutdown.

Metro Transit, already likely to face cuts in the stateâÄôs transportation budget bill, might be affected by a temporary loss of funding during a state government shutdown.

Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland said the effects of a shutdown arenâÄôt clear, but the agency is working on a contingency plan.

The Board of Trustees for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will meet Wednesday to discuss a shutdownâÄôs impact on its 32 institutions scattered across the state.

University police plan to operate as normal. Officers and staff arenâÄôt immediately worried about the consequences of a shutdown for their job either, since officers are not direct employees of the state, Chief Greg Hestness said. University police are governed by the Board of Regents, and not the Minneapolis Police Department.

No plans are in the works for temporary layoffs or cuts in patrol shifts, Hestness said.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to stand pat at that, and wait and see what our friends at St. Paul finally get accomplished,âÄù Hestness said.

Pfutzenreuter said the uncertainty of when state funds will arrive is âÄúunsettling.âÄù

 âÄúWe just donâÄôt know how long this could go on,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôll definitely watch closely.âÄù