U granted $103.9 million in funds

by Erin Ghere

After a long wait, the state Legislature passed $103.9 million Saturday in funding for the University throughout the next two years as part of the higher education bill; placing the most University funds toward University President Mark Yudof’s undergraduate and faculty initiatives.
The $2.6 billion bill includes a $237 million increase in higher education funding from the last biennium. The bill provides $15 million for undergraduate education and services and $69 million to increase faculty and staff salaries at the University.
Mike Wilhelmi, legislative assistant for Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said Gov. Jesse Ventura will look favorably on the higher education bill and will most likely sign it. The bill is expected to reach the governor’s desk early this week.
House and Senate conferees made the compromise Friday night, after more than two weeks of back-and-forth debate on funding differences.
“When you look at the numbers, this is a really good bill,” said Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, chairwoman of the House higher education committee.
The biggest hoop for the higher education conferees was funding for financial aid. The final bill put $25 million toward financial aid and created a three-part plan to even out the distribution, offsetting an expected 3 percent tuition increase over the next two years.
On top of the basic difference in numbers, legislators had opposing views on the way aid was divided between students. Some committee members felt the formula was biased toward students in private colleges.
To help cover students’ living expenses, legislators gave $13.2 million, or $490 per student. To reduce the amount of the expenses students are expected to pay, $4.1 million was put to drop the student share from 47 to 46 percent. This will still benefit students in private schools more because they generally have higher tuition costs. The final piece of the puzzle was $3 million toward work-study funding.
Funding for the Academic Health Center was removed from the bill after an announcement by House speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Senate majority leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, which established four endowments, including one which is expected to create funding for the center.
Another controversial point was funding for the University Center Rochester. The House originally earmarked $5.3 million for the venture, but in committee that number got chopped to $500,000.
While it did not provoke excessive discussion in committee, debate on the House floor focused on the small amount of funding the University will receive for the project.
In a letter read on the House floor Saturday, Robert Bruininks, University vice president and provost, said the University not only needs the Legislature’s support for the project, but also needs funding for it.
The House passed the bill 69-63, split down party lines. Leppik said the split was due to some partisan games. The Senate later passed the bill with only one dissenting vote.
“I want to remind you of what Rep. (Lyn) Carlson (DFL-Crystal) said in today’s paper: ‘This is a good bill,'” Leppik said of a Star Tribune article.