Local lawmakers need to lead U funding fight

University President Mark Yudof needs all the help he can get to pass his ambitious $249 million capital plan. And in general, he has it. In October, Gov. Arne Carlson announced his full support for Yudof’s plan. Many lawmakers have pushed for the University’s request. But legislative committees have pared the University’s funding by millions of dollars. The package faces votes soon in both houses before discussion in conference committee. There is still time for lawmakers to grant the University the full $249 million, but only if some legislators have the courage to lead a pro-funding fight.
The University needs the state funds. The request is part of a four-year, $760 million plan to revitalize the University through new construction, improved programs and high-tech initiatives. Moreover, the package is a good deal for the state. Legislators should amend their floor bills to offer full funding, and this drive should be led by University-area Democrats Sen. Larry Pogemiller, and Rep. Phyllis Kahn. Additionally, University and Daily alumnus House Speaker Phil Carruthers should join the fight for the full $249 million.
That full funding is good for the state has been discussed before in this space. And the cuts proposed by the Senate are relatively small, which could lull some into accepting reduction as a reasonable compromise. But there is simply no reason to compromise. There are no anti-University activists. If some legislators hope to deny the state’s premiere educational institution any funding at all, they’re not saying anything. The $1.9 billion state surplus all but eliminates normal budgetary competition, especially when one-third of the $249 million will be repaid by the University. The University’s representatives should offer no compromise where none is requested. Instead, Pogemiller and Kahn should rally their colleagues behind a restoration of full funding. “Two-forty-nine or fight” could be their slogan, paraphrasing James K. Polk’s 1844 campaign battle cry.
Both of the University’s legislative representatives have expressed their support for the University’s funding in general, and for Yudof’s request in particular. Their words of encouragement are appreciated, but are not enough. Too few words and not enough action does not demonstrate support. The situation now requires their action on the floor of both houses. Because of the funding’s critical importance to the University and to the state, Pogemiller and Kahn should do everything in their power to ensure full funding. They ought to be willing even to hold up other legislation to broker a deal for Yudof’s full request.
The University community has been outspoken in its lobbying effort for the funds. Hundreds of students have rallied at the capitol, climbed water towers and painted bridges. Professors have written opinions columns and letters to the editor for local newspapers, including this one. The University community has done its part to lobby for Yudof’s request. But both of the University’s legislators have been a little too quiet. Pogemiller and Kahn represent the University, and representing is what they ought to be doing. They should be vocal in demanding full funding and incessant in reminding their colleagues that anything less than $249 million is a needless compromise.