U expects funding deficit

The Senate Finance Committee approved cutting $42 million in University funding.

Courtney Blanchard

The University may receive about $42 million less than it requested for the 2008-2009 biennium budget.

The hole in funding could mean increased tuition and cutbacks in programs at the University, according to Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer.

The Senate is expected to vote on University funding Thursday in what some lawmakers see as a disappointment in a year that started with a projected state budget surplus.

The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division worked out the details of the bill and the Senate Finance Committee approved it Tuesday, with a few amendments.

Higher education committee chairwoman Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said she was disappointed with the final package.

“I really think we’re not doing good enough by the University,” she said. “We’re not doing enough to hold down tuition.”

Pappas said the state didn’t have the funds to grant the University’s full request, or that of other educational programs.

“The fact is that we don’t have a surplus,” she said, adding that the projected state budget surplus cannot be used toward education because even after it’s reduced by inflation, the rest is one-time money that can’t be appropriated to ongoing projects.

Pappas said the money will cover inflationary costs and core operating costs at the University.

“This is just a status quo bill,” Pappas said.

Though Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty suggested granting only half of the University’s request in his recommended budget, the committee granted nearly $140 million out of the University’s request of $182 million.

Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, said though the committee gave more to the University than the governor recommended, he thinks the committee made the right compromises.

“Let’s just say I’m satisfied with the money,” he said. “I don’t think it became a partisan issue.”

Susan Heegaard, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said the committee ignored the governor’s requests for appropriations to programs like ACHIEVE, which would reward top-performing and post-secondary enrolled high school students with tuition assistance.

“There’s little trace of the governor’s recommendations in the bill,” she said.

Heegaard said the bill should have included bonuses that the University could receive after making progress on its strategic planning process.

Instead, the bill would mainly allocate a lump sum to the Board of Regents, which will decide where to spend the money, said Higher Education Budget and Policy Division Committee administrator Emily Shively.

“We weren’t able to fully fund the base request, so we’re giving the University the flexibility to prioritize,” she said.

Pfutzenreuter said the shortfall would mean the University has to make decisions about where to reallocate money and cut programs.

“(University President Robert Bruininks) has two priorities: to protect the quality of education and protect the ability of low-income students to attend,” he said.

In order to protect those priorities, he said, the University will likely share the $42 million deficit evenly between tuition increases and program cuts.

Originally, Pfutzenreuter said, University officials planned on tuition increasing by 4.5 percent next year. Now, that estimate has increased to 5.5 percent, with a 7.5 percent bump over current rates in 2009.

Students paying resident tuition rates could see that translate to about $471 more for 2008 and $642 more for 2009, he said.

According to Pfutzenreuter, programs that could see cuts are undergraduate counseling, University Libraries journal subscriptions, the doctorate of nursing practice program, some science research programs and the early warning disease surveillance system at the vet diagnostic lab.

Next week, the House is expected to introduce a bill to address the University’s budget request.

That version is likely to be similar to the Senate’s, University officials said.