The House of Representatives passed a higher education funding bill on Wednesday that would keep the University of MinnesotaâÄôs yearly funding at nearly current levels each of the next two years. The bill amounted to a more than 10 percent cut in state support for higher education during 2010-11 , but the difference was made up with more than $361.8 million in federal stimulus funding . The bill would give more than $1.4 billion in funding to the University. The bill comes with a 3 percent tuition cap, using stimulus funds to keep any possible tuition increase to around $300 per student. âÄúThe stimulus money really helped us,âÄù the billâÄôs sponsor Rep. Tom Rukavina , DFL-Virginia, said. âÄúThank heavens it was there.âÄù Language in the bill that would have eliminated state funding for University biomedical research buildings was removed from the bill last week , but the bill retained provisions that would require the University to sell alcohol to everyone of legal age at TCF Bank Stadium, as well as a controversial provision that would force state schools and universities to sell only American-made apparel in their bookstores. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, proposed an amendment to remove the provision, saying a college in his district had told him 100 percent of the clothing sold in their bookstore was not made in the United States and the bill would hurt schoolsâÄô ability to raise money. âÄúThis is a very, very poor provision,âÄù Seifert said. The amendment failed. Further debate revolved around using state funds for a University scholarship for students who are not eligible for Pell Grants but come from Minnesota families who make less than $100,000. Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan , argued tax money shouldnâÄôt be used to fund the scholarship and called for tax cuts instead. âÄúWhy donâÄôt we just let middle income folks keep more of their money?âÄù he said. The amendment failed, and the scholarship remained in the bill. Two amendments were introduced to allow students to choose which student service fees they would pay. âÄúStudents should have the choice as to what services they want to fund and what they donâÄôt want to fund,âÄù Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria , said. However, both amendments were voted down, as were two amendments from a pair of Republican lawmakers that would impose 5 percent to 10 percent cuts on salaries of University employees who make more than $100,000.
Conference committee coming
On Friday, the Senate passed their version of the higher education bill. It would cut more than 4 percent from the University next biennium, as well as propose a further 8 percent cut in the 2012-13 funding years. A conference committee will convene to hammer out differences between the two bills. Before passing the bill 41-23 on Friday , much of the SenateâÄôs debate centered on the size of the cut. âÄúThis higher education budget would not pass the House,âÄù Sen. Geoff Michel , R-Edina, said during the debate. âÄúIt would not pass the governor [Republican Tim Pawlenty ].âÄù Pawlenty has proposed a budget plan that is very similar to the HouseâÄôs plan in the upcoming funding years. âÄúThis [cut] is very difficult for a lot of us,âÄù Sen. Sandra Pappas , DFL-St. Paul, said on the Senate floor. âÄúIt means weâÄôre going in the wrong direction, not the right direction âÄ¦ However, we do have a constitution and our [Minnesota] Constitution says that we have to balance the budget, so we have no choice.âÄù -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter