Still fighting for U funds

The legislative session ended this year with the governor and Legislature deadlocked over how to achieve a budget package that adequately balances the needs of our state. There are many factors contributing to this deadlock, not least of which is how much to invest in higher education. Discussions got off to a difficult start with the governor’s budget proposal of $99.4 million in new spending, which was far below the requests made by the University and our state university system and the $283 million ultimately passed by the Senate.

The governor’s original proposal served to constrain the debate regarding investment for higher education, and the final package agreed to last week by conference committee members reflects some of this constraint. The final agreement reached by the conference committee is for $176 million in new spending – a compromise between the Senate’s original proposal of $283 million, the House’s proposal of $163 million and the governor’s recommendation for $99.4 million. While the committee wisely agreed to provide additional funding for child care grants and for independent students who have little access to funds for higher education, the agreement actually cuts into overall financial aid, which seems sure to result in restricting middle-income university students.

As a member of the Higher Education Budget Division, I have strongly and persistently advocated for a strong level of funding for our university. I am very concerned about President Mark Yudof’s comment that tuition will need to be increased by 14 percent if we pass the budget agreed to by the Higher Education Conference Committee. As chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, I am working for a statewide business property tax to increase the level of funding for higher education, financial aid, faculty retention and recruitment. This is an uphill battle as the conference committee weighs proposals by the governor and House for strong tax relief and needed investments in higher education, K-12 education and transportation. I see no reason why we cannot achieve both tax reform and needed investment for our state. Both are needed for a strong, economically viable Minnesota.

Last fall, our state’s business, education and government sectors came together to discuss what is needed for Minnesota to remain economically competitive in the future. The need to have highly skilled, educated workers and the ability of our universities to foster innovation were at the top of the list. Clearly, this is not the time to inadequately fund higher education and our University. Fighting hard for a stronger investment in our University as we negotiate a final budget package is in my judgement, the right thing to do for the future of our state, even if that means extending the legislative debate longer into the summer.

 

State Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.