U gets $90 million increase as special session concludes

Latasha Webb

Gov. Jesse Ventura signed nine major spending bills Saturday, ending the special session and safeguarding the employment of 53,000 state workers.

The session and students

The governor-approved higher education bill has the most far-reaching effects for Minnesota’s college students.

Under the legislation, the University will receive a $90 million increase in general funding and a $20 million increase for the Academic Health Center. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will receive a $100 million increase.

“I went into the conference committee keeping access, affordability and quality in mind,” said Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, chairwoman of the Senate’s higher education committee.

“While I feel that we can do more in the future to ensure access, affordability and quality in our higher education systems, I am satisfied this legislation provides much-needed resources for our campuses,” Wiener added.

University President Mark Yudof announced a 13.8 percent tuition increase last week for fall 2001. Colleges across the state will face similar increases to make up for the lower-than-expected state allocations.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, was not as happy as Wiener with the Legislature’s higher education allocations. “Education was really slighted this session and I’m not proud of our ‘historic’ tax cut,” she said.

University students who pay their own tuition have expressed concern over the tuition increase. Some students said they will take fewer credits and work more, or take more loans.

While the governor might lose student support, John Wodele, Ventura’s communications director, said if students are objective and allow the governor’s plan to work, they will not abandon him.

“(The governor) is not against funding for higher education. He is against spending of tax dollars without accountability and fiscal responsibility,” Wodele said.

“People shouldn’t forget that Ventura has increased financial aid opportunities for college students by over $30 million,” Wodele said.

“The University’s attempt to blame Ventura for this increase in tuition is not fair,” he added.

Vice provost and economics professor Craig Swan said parents claiming students as dependents should contribute to tuition and “if students are truly on their own, they should work with the Office of Student Finance to insure that they are classified as independent students which is likely to increase their eligibility for financial aid.”

He added that all low-income students are eligible for Pell grants and new grant money, and students taking more than 12 credits receive additional credits at half price.

The tax bill

Ventura has spent the last two years working for tax reform, and with the new budget he found success.

“Two years ago when we first started to develop a policy agenda, I knew I didn’t like the fundamental structure of the tax system in Minnesota and I set out to change it,” Ventura said Saturday.

The tax bill provides more than $1.5 billion in tax relief, $700 million in a sales tax rebate and $843 million in property tax relief.

Apartment and farm owners will receive a 25 percent reduction in property tax. Homeowners will receive a 23 percent reduction, business owners a 10 percent reduction and cabin owners a 12 percent reduction.

“If life is fair there is a chance that (property tax reductions for apartment owners) will be passed on to renters, so that should be a very positive part of the tax bill,” Kahn said. “Rents ought to come way down.”

But Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, chairman of the House tax committee, said he did not believe renters would actually see the fruits of the property tax reduction because of the metro housing crisis.

The tax bill replaces property tax with sales tax as a major contributor to K-12 education funding – a change the governor says will make education funding equal across the board.

“I knew enough about our total tax system that I had strong feelings it was not only unfair and susceptible to political manipulation, but in need of updating to be more efficient in the new economy,” Ventura said.

 

Latasha Webb covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected]