Kelso steps down over funding issues

by Brian Bakstand

After stepping down from her position as chairwoman of the House University Finance Division on Monday, Rep. Becky Kelso, DFL-Shakopee, said that frustrations with decreasing state funding for higher education and the University’s lack of a solid plan for how to spend that money led to her request for a reassignment.
“The legislature has really had the U on a starvation pattern for a number of years, and that cannot go on,” said Kelso, who since 1995 has chaired the committee. “However, at the same time, it’s important to me, as someone who is accountable to the taxpayers for those dollars, to feel that there is a good plan on the part of the University for dealing with their future funding, and I don’t want to, as a legislator, dictate what that plan would be.”
Kelso will head the legislature’s K-12 Education Finance Division in the next legislative session. She will assume her new position in January.
The University, Kelso said, should continue to spend money, but added she would like to see the funds reallocated and the University’s priorities rearranged.
Earlier this fall, the University sent its biennial budget request to Gov. Carlson, who will make comments and forward it to the Legislature for consideration.
Associate Vice President for Budget and Finance Richard Pfutzenreuter said Kelso’s decision probably won’t affect the amount of money the University will receive from the state. “I think the governor is the key player in the University’s budget request,” he said. “The Legislature gets the budget from the governor, and the Legislature can really only play around with the margins of the budget. They can’t reprioritize it significantly.”
House Speaker Phil Carruthers, DFL-Brooklyn Center, has discussed a possible merger of all the House finance divisions, Kelso said. Such a merger would mean the University Finance Division that Kelso headed would cease to exist.
“I think it would be a good thing for the University,” Kelso said, referring to the merger. “The U needs to be more connected (to the House Finance Committee), not dealt with separately.”