Panel passes partial bonding

The State Senate committee approved $115.5 million of the U’s $155.5 million request.

Stephanie Kudrle

Full funding for the University’s capital bonding request will most likely not be a reality this year.

A State committee passed a capital bonding bill Tuesday that included funding for $115.5 million of the University’s requested $155.5 million. The bill will now head to a full Senate floor vote.

Most of the University’s funding will be used to renovate old and deteriorating campus buildings.

The bill is in its final stages at the Legislature. Both chambers must pass it before their year ends May 17 or they risk being called back for a special session.

Last week, a House committee approved funding $90.4 million of the University’s request. Though the Senate’s bill was larger than the House’s, University officials hoped there would be funding for the entire amount.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said the Capital Investment Committee tried to fund as many projects as possible.

The bonding bill is approximately $200 million above the governor’s proposal, and $120 million of that added money went toward higher education, he said.

“Most of us felt (Pawlenty) was lacking in the higher education area,” Langseth said.

In all, the Senate’s bonding bill totals $888.7 million. The House’s bill is for $600 million.

“We’ll probably hear this bill is too large,” Langseth said. “But we had to say ‘no’ to about half of the requests.”

The largest cut in the University’s request was a $40 million reduction in the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement fund.

Vice President for University Services Kathleen O’Brien said she was pleased with the Senate’s bill but had hoped for full funding for the replacement fund, which is used to update and renovate old buildings.

But she said the senators understood the importance of maintaining the University and did the best they could.

The meeting also highlighted some conflicts between the Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature.

Assistant Minority Leader Sen. David Gaither, R-Plymouth, was the only committee member to vote against the bonding bill.

He said he anticipated longer debate about the projects in the bill and was concerned about its large sum.

On Monday, Majority Leader Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said Senate Republicans were threatening to vote against the bonding bill on the floor if Democrats did not confirm one of Pawlenty’s commissioners. The Senate must approve cabinet members appointed by Pawlenty before they can take office.

Johnson, who also sits on the Capital Investment Committee, said the Senate might adjourn early if they can pass the bonding bill and other important legislation in the next few days.