Several factors make the U’s budget outlook a positive one

by Tom Lopez

State lawmakers and University administrators are optimistic about this year’s University budget request, saying the state’s booming economy offers a chance to renew the state’s commitment to higher education.
“There’s a real target of opportunity,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee. “I hope the result is that we’re going to be able to fund the University better than we have in recent years.”
That opportunity, he said, comes in part from the $2.3 billion surplus that Gov. Arne Carlson announced Thursday. But a number of other factors — including a recommitment to tradition, the University 2000 plan and the hiring of President-elect Mark Yudof — are also contributing to the high expectations.
The University’s 17 percent proposed increase in funds from the state is a reaction to a decreased legislative commitment in recent years, Rep. Carlson said.
“I suspect, in part, that’s because the state was not putting funds into the University that we should have been,” he said. “Hopefully the surplus will allow us an opportunity to increase funds for the University.”
Rep. Carlson added that since 1991, higher education has not been funded “as well as it should have been.”
Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said Minnesotans have had a strong commitment to education in the past. Referring to “an intergenerational compact,” Marshak said the health of Minnesota today is the result of the importance that the state has traditionally placed on education.
“We have a responsibility to make a similar investment in education to ensure the same opportunities and the same quality of life for our children and our grandchildren,” he said.
He cited as an example the employment rate in Minnesota, which he said is the highest in the country.
“Minnesota is not exactly a garden spot,” he said. “But through working together, we have managed a very high quality of life here.”
Marshak said, to some degree, the University’s heightened budget request reflects a national trend. “We are certainly not the only state that realizes that a well-educated work force is a good thing,” he said. “I think many states are looking to investing more in education because that’s what pays off.”
Rep. Carlson said he does not think the University will receive all of the $580 million that it has requested, but that it would be significantly higher than the first recommendation that the Governor made, which was about $100 million less then what the University requested.
“I’m hopeful that we can fund the University higher than what the governor recommended,” he said. “If we can fund the whole (University) request, that would be fine with me, but I’m not sure we’ll have the resources to do that.”
Richard Pfutzenreuter, the associate vice-president of the Office of Budget and Finance, said the University had begun to put its request together last May, before anyone realized the state would have a significant surplus. Even before the additional money became available, he said he was confident that the Legislature would increase funding for the University.
The reason, he said, is that the University is confident that it has developed a clear plan for the future with the U2000 program and has moved forward in successfully implementing that plan.
However, Pfutzenreuter added that “it certainly doesn’t hurt that the state’s financial status is pretty robust.”
Although the surplus does afford a good chance at higher funding, Pfutzenreuter said that the University would not rule out higher requests in the future, as long as they are justifiable.
“It is my opinion that the University should never be ashamed to make its case for financial support, as long as it has a clear plan and a clear case that can be made,” he said.
Another reason to be optimistic about the budget is the Legislature’s confidence in the incoming University administration, said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. “We’re very pleased with the new president and the new administration,” she said, adding that the outlook for this year’s budget is “very positive.”