Bill awaits Pawlenty’s signature

Than Tibbetts

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to sign the higher-education bill, which offers most of the University’s requested money for the 2006-07 biennium.

Though they aimed at a 5.5 percent tuition increase for the 2005-06 school year, University officials said the bill will still keep tuition increases in the single digits.

The funding comes in the higher-education budget bill, which passed Friday through the State House and Senate.

Brian McClung, Pawlenty’s spokesman, said the governor is expected to sign the bill.

The bill provides $1.2 billion to the University during the next two years and offers $105.6 million in new money. University officials originally requested $126 million for new money from the Legislature, but officials were still pleased with the bill.

It contrasts sharply with the last biennium, when the University needed to cut $185 million from its budget. Still, some said the bill doesn’t go far enough to stem the rising costs of tuition.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said the two bills were like night and day. But he said he did not know whether it reverses the trend of the University becoming a smaller portion of the state’s budget as time goes on.

“It was a good outcome,” he said. “We were very pleased that it had very strong bipartisan support across the board.”

If the bill is signed, University officials estimate tuition increases will be approximately 7.5 percent next year. This will be the first single-digit tuition increase since 2000, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

Pfutzenreuter said officials entered the budget process hoping to hold tuition increases at 5.5 percent.

“I think we’re going to be close to that, not exactly at that because we did come up short,” he said. “Given the stress that the state budget’s under, we feel pretty good about what happened.”

University President Bob Bruininks will make his budget recommendations to the Board of Regents at its June meeting.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said he would have rather passed the Senate’s version of the bill, which came within $5 million of funding the University’s request.

“I didn’t think (the final bill) was an adequate bill for what has been going on in higher education in the last four to six years,” he said. “I think tuition is going to go up again and much higher than what was expected.”

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said some lawmakers wished they could fund higher education so tuition increases weren’t necessary.

“I think a 10 percent increase, given the situation and the (governor’s) no-tax pledge, is a good effort to reverse the trend from cuts to investing in the ‘U,’ ” she said.

Budget highlights

The $1.2 billion budget package funds several of Bruininks’ initiatives, including funding for student recruitment, outreach services, technology advancement and biosciences research.

The higher-education bill also includes $13 million to help the University offer competitive salaries and attract “quality faculty members.”

The Academic Health Center is expected to receive more than $20 million each year from the cigarette tax appropriation.

Regents selection

The bill changes how regents will be selected in the future.

In the past, a Regent Candidate Advisory Council helped the Legislature identify and recruit candidates for the board.

The Council will make recommendations to the governor, who will select nominees and present them to the Legislature.

Tomassoni said the change has broad implications for what direction the University might take in the future.

“We’re giving the governor power that he’s never had before, and that says a lot to what the University of Minnesota might be focusing on in the future,” he said.

“I don’t think it behooves the Legislature to ever give up any power, especially given the fact that the governor already appoints 2,000 people in a four-year term.”