U budget request smaller than past years

Few could call an appeal for $141.2 million dollars modest, but the UniversityâÄôs newest budget request is just that. The UniversityâÄôs 2010-11 biennial budget request is less than it was in 2008-09 and is the fourth-smallest request made since 1995. The UniversityâÄôs proposed 4.5 percent annual tuition increase is also smaller than in recent years. The biennial request, which will help fund the University for 2010 and 2011, sits at $141.2 million. It would be used to pay for salary increases for employees, a new scholarship program for Minnesota students and investment in âÄúresearch infrastructure.âÄù For the 2008-09 biennium, the University requested $182.3 million, and received $149 million from the state Legislature. University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the smaller request reflects the current economic state. âÄúItâÄôs a recognition that the state is going to have some potentially serious budget problems itself,âÄù he said. The request would provide money for a salary increase for University employees âÄî $95.2 million of the request âÄî the creation of a scholarship program for middle-income students âÄî $16 million âÄî and research infrastructure investments âÄî $30 million. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt necessarily meet the needs of the University, but focuses on what we think are the most critical parts of the University that we know need financial support,âÄù Pfutzenreuter said. In its 2008-09 request, the University asked for $67 million for general compensation and $24.9 million for student purposes. The University has had noticeable declines in their requests in years past. In 2003, the University requested $125.3 million less than it did in 2001. Since 1995, the University has requested funding increases as small as 7.4 percent in 2003 to as large as 25 percent in 1997. In that time, the Legislature has never granted the school its full request. âÄúWe all acknowledge we rarely get everything we ask for,âÄù Pfutzenreuter said. âÄúBut weâÄôre going there to fight for every penny.âÄù Should the University not receive the funds it requested, Pfutzenreuter said, there are a number of options for making up the funds, such as cutting research investment, having fewer jobs or raising tuition more than the planned 4.5 percent. Raising tuition, however, has some on the Board of Regents and in the state Legislature concerned. Regent David Larson said he wasnâÄôt unhappy with the possibility of a tuition increase but said he intends to âÄúchallenge the administration to do everything conceivably possible to try and hold it down.âÄù The 4.5 percent tuition increase would be one of the smallest in the past 10 years. According to the Office of Budget and Finance, tuition increases in the early 2000s hovered around 13 to 14 percent. Larson said the proposed tuition increase is minimal, all things considered. âÄúNone of us are happy with any increase but we know weâÄôre in very, very difficult economic times,âÄù he said. âÄúThe state is going to be squeezed.âÄù Pfutzenreuter said legislatures weary of a tuition hike need to consider the Middle Income Scholarship program , a part of the 2010-11 request. âÄúThatâÄôs a key offset to the tuition increase,âÄù he said. State Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the UniversityâÄôs request was responsible in the current economy, and he believed the scholarship and compensation programs were worthwhile requests. Still, large tuition increases would be unfair for students, especially if it would go toward paying for research, he said. âÄúYou just canâÄôt keep laying tuition hikes at the steps of these students,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs something that the Legislature will look very favorable on.âÄù Rukavina said the budget outlook is bleak for both the University and the state. âÄúUnless the picture gets rosier, itâÄôs going to be difficult times at the Capitol,âÄù he said.