Legislator rallies support for Academic Health Center

by Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

Students at the Academic Health Center must support their colleges if they want the Legislature to continue supporting the center, a Minnesota legislator said Tuesday.

Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring, spoke to a sparsely filled auditorium at Moos Tower in a lecture sponsored by the Medical Student Section of the American Medical Association.

Decreased state revenue makes funding higher education a tricky matter, said Stang, who chairs the House Higher Education Finance Committee.

“We have to figure out how we’re going to pay when our revenue isn’t increasing,” he said.

Escalating health-care costs are the primary drain on the state’s budgetary resources, he said. Academic Health Center students, as budding health-care professionals, will face these issues as they leave school, he said.

“We have to figure out how to bring costs down, or cut back eligibility,” Stang said. “It affects everyone’s budget and we’re trying to get a handle on that.”

Stang also conveyed support for Academic Health Center funding. He said he is working on a proposal for the House bonding committee that would increase the center’s funding. He said he hopes to see a similar effort in the Senate.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s bonding proposal did not include a separate allotment for the Academic Health Center outside of general University funds, Stang said.

“It’s difficult to balance all the needs and wants,” he said.

Stang also called on Academic Health Center students to become more involved in the legislative process with regard to funding issues.

“The public underestimates the importance an e-mail can have on a legislator,” he said. “Higher education students have to be more vocal.”

Stang also said a portion of state funding for the Academic Health Center has switched from tobacco endowment money to a portion of the state’s cigarette tax.

When asked by a student why health professionals should be educated with money from an unhealthy product, Stang acknowledged the Catch-22 of the new funding system.

“We beat up on smokers and make them pay, but we love their money,” he said.

Alisa Lee, president of the University chapter of AMA’s Medical Student Section, said students invited Stang to better understand the Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor sides of the issues.

“Traditionally, Republicans aren’t as supportive” of higher education funding, she said.

At the end of his speech, Stang reiterated his belief that students need to get involved.

“Lobbying is talking to your representatives and telling them what you’d like to happen,” he said. “And thanks for not throwing your food at me.”