Budget pleases most U officials

$15 million of the proposal is for the University and Mayo Clinic partnership.

by Anna Weggel

Although University officials say they are generally pleased with Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal, some say it could yield negative effects on the University.

Pawlenty recommended $1.22 billion for the University for the next two years, which is a $113 million increase from the University’s last two-year budget.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said $15 million of Pawlenty’s proposal is for the University and Mayo Clinic partnership – with half of the money going to each side. This was not part of the University’s budget request.

The University initially requested a $126 million increase and received approximately $105.5 million of that request, Pfutzenreuter said.

“We’re pretty pleased, given the circumstances, that the governor was as attentive to our needs as he was,” Pfutzenreuter said. “When you look at $105.5 million without the Mayo money, he gave us almost 85 percent of what we asked for.”

However, the loss of the last 15 percent could create problems for the University.

Pfutzenreuter said there are three choices when a session ends. He said the University can “lower its aspirations” by cutting something out of its investment plan, increase tuition beyond the proposed 5.5 percent or make cuts from various University programs.

“At this point in time, it’s likely that a combination of all three of those things would have to happen,” he said.

University President Bob Bruininks wants to keep tuition as low as possible, Pfutzenreuter said, but the proposed 5.5 percent increase is not guaranteed, especially with Pawlenty’s proposal.

“(Bruininks) and the Board (of Regents) don’t want to raise it to the double-digit levels we’ve had going on,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Although the final budget will not be determined until the end of the legislative session in May, Pfutzenreuter said, the number is a critical starting point for discussion at the Legislature.

History shows the University usually ends up with a budget close to the governor’s recommendation, but Pfutzenreuter said legislators have said they would like to give more.

“But you have to think about that in the context of all the other cuts and stresses they have in the budget at the Capitol to deal with,” he said.

Marty McDonough, assistant director of state relations, represents the University at a state level.

“We were a little nervous; any time the state is in deficit, it’s hard to expect too much,” he said. “I think when we knew the state was $700 million in the hole, we weren’t expecting a huge investment in the University.”

McDonough said he’s hoping to get some of the investment back this year.

“With the economic mess we’re in, the University is one of the places we need to invest in to move the state along,” he said.

First-year student Amber Esch said she has to take out a lot of loans every year to afford tuition.

“I don’t see why (tuition) has to increase,” she said. “I think the University has an obligation to keep the cost down for students so more can come.”