Funding higher education must remain a priority to keep the state’s economy viable, Gov. Arne Carlson told the Minneapolis Downtown Council at their annual meeting on Tuesday.
Although Carlson spoke to more than 1,000 businesspeople, his message was directed toward the state Legislature and Gov.-elect Jesse Ventura, who has made several comments University officials considered to be unsupportive of financial aid for students in higher education.
“We have one university in Minnesota, and we ride on that university,” Carlson said in his keynote address. “If that university fails, every single one of you will feel it. We have no choice but to make sure that university succeeds.”
That message came less than one week after the Board of Regents approved the $1.28 billion biennial budget request, which the state Legislature will consider when the session starts in January. Last spring, University President Mark Yudof and Carlson, who’s eight-year stint as governor ends in January, joined forces to win a major capital and supplemental budget windfall of $242.8 million from the state.
Because Ventura’s higher education priorities are unknown, the chance of achieving such legislative success in the future is up in the air.
“I think the relationship with governor Ventura is very important and I’ll try to cultivate the relationship,” Yudof said. “It’s not based on rhetoric; I just need to explain the importance of the University and other points about investment” to Ventura.
However, Ventura spokeswoman Teresa McFarland said while the budget is the administration’s first priority, Ventura’s staff is concentrating on the transition into the office.
“It’s too soon to comment on specific initiatives like Governor Carlson’s,” McFarland said.
Yudof was not the only leader to address Ventura’s lack of experience with higher education issues. In his speech, Carlson implored the new administration to “truly begin to understand how we are investing the taxpayers’ money” in higher education.
Carlson also outlined six components of higher education funding he thinks are particularly important for the Legislature and Ventura to approve:
ù $35 million to complete the second phase of the Cellular and Molecular Biology Institute;
ù $17.5 million for the Center for Plant and Microbial Genomics on the St. Paul campus;
ù $37 million for graduate medical education at the University and $34 million for graduate medical education at the Mayo Clinic to replace funds from Medicare that were reduced in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997;
ù $5 million for a student exchange program to be divided evenly between the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system;
ù $20 million to bolster partnerships between the business community and MnSCU.
Ruth Johnson, who was vice chairwoman of the House Higher Education Finance Division in the last legislative session, said she thinks the $20 million business partnership, the $35 million Cellular and Molecular Biology Institute and the $37 million graduate Medical School funding would find support in the Legislature.
However, the $17.5 million Center for Plant and Microbial Genomics and the $5 million study abroad initiative might prove difficult to pass because Ventura has said he won’t fund new programs that increase government spending, she said.
“When we’re going to be living with a governor who will not increase government spending, the University will have to work hard to make a good case for the last two ideas,” Johnson said.