State finance commissioner to move on

by Kelly Wittman

The state official who threatened to withhold $6.6 million in state funding from the University this summer will leave her position in mid-October.
State Finance Commissioner Laura King is leaving her post at the Capitol to become the vice chancellor for Budget for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. King told the Board of Regents in July that she would not release $6.6 million worth of funds if the board passed the Faculty Senate’s proposed tenure revisions, which she found too weak.
In September the regents unveiled a stronger tenure proposal that has drawn heavy criticism from faculty organizations nationwide and led to a drive among University faculty to unionize.
King said her expectations for tenure revision reflect the state’s policy of outcome expectations for the University. Outcome expectations, a policy King says she continues to strongly support, is a system in which funding is tied to specific goals legislators place on a college or university.
Last year, the Legislature bound $6.6 million in funding to changes in the University’s tenure code.
King’s comment on withholding the money was attacked by University administrators who said the finance commissioner doesn’t have the authority to make such a decision. Richard Pfutzenreuter, vice president for the office of Budget and Finance, and Marvin Marshak, vice president for Academic Affairs, said the regents need only give their approval to tenure revisions in order to expect the money from the state.
King’s resignation will not affect the proposed tenure revisions that are already on the table, Tom Reagan, chairman of the Board of Regents said. From the very beginning of the discussion of tenure reform the regents have said the $6.6 million would not dictate the tenure changes, he said.
The proposed measure, which would make layoffs possible for tenured faculty, is one of the most contested issues in the regents’ proposal. Reagan said they are just suggestions made to the faculty that haven’t even been discussed yet.
King will resign in mid-October, said Brian Dietz, communication manager for the governor’s office. There is no formal search process for the position of State Finance Commissioner, he said, but the governor’s office is currently accepting applications for the position and expects to name a replacement within the next month.
No candidates for the position have yet been named, he said.
King’s successor needs to be in office shortly following her departure because of the fast approaching legislative session, which opens Jan. 7, 1997, Dietz said.
The governor will probably pick a new commissioner with experience comparable to King’s in public budgeting, Dietz said. The successful candidate will also have to demonstrate that he or she can handle a budget of large proportions, he said.
Ironically, King’s new position with the system requires her to go to the state to ask for money for colleges in that system. The organization includes many of Minnesota’s state, community and technical colleges, but does not include the University.
The role reversal provides an exciting opportunity, King said. Her work doling out funds to higher education as finance commissioner will be a plus when working to secure funding for the system, she said.
Her knowledge of the process for getting funds from the state, as well as her good relations with the governor and the Legislature, can only help in her new job, she said.
It was a hard decision to make to leave the governor’s administration, which she has been with since 1991, King said. But, she said, it’s hard to be the bad guy all the time.
The stress of a 60-hour work week, as well as having to turn down many who deserved funds, makes the position difficult, she said. “There are a lot of good ideas and not enough money to go around,” King said.
Dietz said he has been impressed with King’s ability to deliver needed services to Minnesotans while keeping the budget in balance. During her tenure, Minnesota was voted fourth-best financially managed state in the nation by Moody’s Investor Services of New York. The service also upgraded the state’s bond rating to “triple A,” he said.
The upgrade is the first time Moody’s has upgraded any state to “triple A” in 22 years. “Both reflect the leadership ability of Laura King,” Dietz said.