Bruininks pledges low tuition hikes at Capitol??

Five days before Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to recommend a cut in the University of Minnesota’s state appropriation, University President Bob Bruininks was at the Capitol on Thursday pledging to limit tuition increases in the coming years. “I’m not going to take a high tuition proposal forward to the University’s Board of Regents, anything in the neighborhood that we had in the last severe budget downturn,” Bruininks said before the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Division. In 2003, the last time the University received a cut in its base funding from the state, the University imposed back-to-back years of tuition increases topping 14 percent. Bruininks, railing against PawlentyâÄôs goal to cap tuition increases at state schools this session at state schools this session, said tuition increases would be on the table, but would be, âÄúthe last thing on the listâÄù of possible revenue sources for the University. âÄúAnyone in higher education who thinks theyâÄôre going to solve this budget problem with high tuition rates is whistling in the wind,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs responsible and itâÄôs not the position I would take at this time.âÄù The University received more than $1.2 billion in state funding and tuition money in 2007-08 and is requesting a $141.2 million increase in state funding for the upcoming biennium. The University is also proposing an annual tuition increase of 4.5 percent beginning in 2010. âÄúState support, along with tuition is a vital part of âĦ most of the core functions of the University of Minnesota,âÄù Bruininks said. âÄúWithout it, we clearly would be in very, very deep trouble.âÄù State funds make up 70 percent of funding for the University, Bruininks said. It accounts for more than three quarters of total spending on both student services and faculty compensation. Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the University faces up to $90 million in new costs next year. Half of that comes in the form of compensation increases, he said, while the rest is divided among everything from facility costs to safety obligations, he said. When the University was debating how to deal with budget cuts last May, Pfutzenreuter said further tuition increases would be a last resort. Tuition and fees ended up increasing by the previously planned 7.5 percent. Pfutzenreuter also briefed the committee on the UniversityâÄôs response to past budget cuts, as he did earlier in the month for a Senate committee. âÄúWe will do everything possible to keep this burden as low as possible on students,âÄù Bruininks said. âÄúWeâÄôll do everything we can to protect the jobs of our employees.âÄù Capital Investment Finance Division University officials also testified before the House Capital Investment Finance Division on Thursday regarding the UniversityâÄôs $74.5 million Capital request. The University is requesting $35 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funds, as well as $39.5 million to build a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus. Kathleen OâÄôBrien, vice president of University Services, said the HEAPR funds, which are used for maintenance on campus, would help the University save more than $2 million a year in energy costs. Funding for the 71,000-square-foot Bell Museum was approved by the Legislature last session, but vetoed by Pawlenty. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, voiced concerns about the location and accessibility of the new museum, which is set to be built at the corner of Larpenteur and Cleveland avenues in St. Paul. âÄú[Bruininks] understands the responsibility of the University to the Bell Museum, and our stewardship of the state institution and thatâÄôs why we are back with this request again,âÄù OâÄôBrien said.