Outlook for U’s budget gets brighter

by Chris Vetter

A little lobbying went a long way for University administrators.
The Senate Children, Families and Learning Committee shifted $12 million of its higher education omnibus bill to the University’s biennial budget on Tuesday after much lobbying by administrators during the weekend. The move brings the University’s funding increase to $136 million more than the current biennium, but it is still short of both the school’s and the governor’s requests.
The bill was passed last Friday by the Senate Higher Education Committee with a $124.5 million increase for 1998-99, much less than the University’s request of $230 million.
University officials said they hadn’t expected the bill to change in the learning committee, but were happy with the changes.
“This is a nice surprise,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, vice president of the Office of Budget and Finance.
The $12 million features $8 million in cash and $4 million in bonds. Gov. Arne Carlson’s budget proposal of $145.8 million for the University is all cash with no bonds.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, who chairs the Higher Education Committee, said there was a need to bring the University budget closer to the governor’s proposal.
“Our priorities were to get students more financial aid,” Stumpf said. “In that process, I think we’ve come up very tight for the University of Minnesota.”
To obtain the $12 million for the University, the committee subtracted $4 million from the state Higher Education Services Office budget and $8 million from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
The committee tied $10 million of the increase to performance measures, which asks officials to prove they achieved certain goals for improving the University by January 1998 and 1999.
But legislators say they would like to come closer to fulfilling the University’s request. Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, told the committee that the Senate higher education funding target of $2.36 billion was too low, and restricted what the higher education committee could do.
“This committee has struggled,” Wiener said. “The money we have distributed is nothing close to what we should be giving to one of our most important investments.”
The House Higher Education Committee begins work on their omnibus bill today. Once the two houses determine how much money they believe the University should receive, they will hammer out the final numbers in the conference committee.