HEAPR funds pass first test

HEAPR request, capital funding request pass House finance committee.

Two of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs major legislative requests passed their first committee at the State Capitol on Tuesday. A House higher education budget committee passed the UniversityâÄôs $35 million Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding request, as well as a $39.5 million capital funding request for the construction of the Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus âÄî an increase from $24 million last year. The Capital Investment Finance Committee will now consider the measures as part of its final omnibus bonding proposal. The UniversityâÄôs HEAPR request includes more than $30 million in projects on the Twin Cities campus , including energy conservation projects in more than 40 buildings. Kathleen OâÄôBrien, vice president for University Services, said these projects would save the University between $1 million and $2 million a year in operating costs. Seventy percent of the UniversityâÄôs buildings statewide are more than 30 years old, OâÄôBrien said. âÄúWhen our house is 30 years old,âÄù she said, âÄúwe start needing to have things paid attention to.âÄù Last session, the University requested $100 million in HEAPR funds . Typically, the University only makes capital improvement requests every other session, OâÄôBrien said. Funding for the construction of the Bell Museum was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty during the last legislative session, but was passed Tuesday as part of a capital spending bill along with a variety of vetoed projects from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. If approved, the $39.5 million would be about two-thirds of the total cost of museum construction. The University will pick up the rest of the tab and has already raised about $12 million, O’Brien said. Committee chairman Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said agencies across the state were told to request money for projects that could begin soon after the funds were awarded. âÄúAll different agencies, whether itâÄôs higher education or public safety, were told to get projects that were shovel-ready or can move this summer,âÄù he said. âÄúSo I think that, looking at all the projects that they proposed, that they can move quickly.âÄù Of MnSCUâÄôs $50 million HEAPR request, 80 percent would be used for projects that get underway this year, MnSCU Associate Vice Chancellor Allan Johnson told the committee. Under the capital funding bill, MnSCU would receive at least $71.2 million for projects across the state, including five that were vetoed along with the Bell Museum last session. The two bills now go to the Capital Investment Finance Committee, which will debate and combine it with other spending proposals into a full spending bill. The Legislature will consider it, and then the bill will go to Pawlenty, where the Bell Museum funding met its end last session. âÄúWeâÄôve got to get people back to work, weâÄôve got to them paying taxes, weâÄôve got to get vendors selling projects,âÄù Rukavina said. âÄúIâÄôm hoping that its fate this year will be better than last.âÄù -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter