The bustle retu…

Coralie Carlson

The bustle returns to the state Capitol today as lawmakers enter the 1998 legislative session facing an agenda packed with items affecting the University.
Over the course of the three-month session, legislators will debate how financial aid should be administered, Board of Regents members should be selected, and the University should upgrade its physical appearance.
University constituencies will be eyeing the following agenda items in the upcoming weeks.
Budget requests
University President Mark Yudof put forward $290.5 million in capital and supplemental budget requests, much of it for building renovations and faculty member raises. The first-year president will be looking to cash in on the support he’s received from heads of both parties.
The lion’s share of the University’s request — $249 million — is devoted to enhancing technology and improving the school’s aging buildings. But it faces fierce competition from other groups hoping to snatch up bonding money for their own projects.
Every other year, the Legislature approves a bonding bill, with money coming from the sale of state bonds. Such spending requires three-fifths approval instead of the standard majority.
Richard Pfutzenreuter, assistant vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance, said the capital request is unique because it closely incorporates Yudof’s initiatives for molecular and cellular biology, digital science, new media, agriculture research and outreach and design. The budget first outlines what University officials want to do and then what building renovations are needed to meet the goals.
“There has been some real concern with the deterioration of the buildings at the University,” said Rep. Henry Kalis, DFL-Walters. But Kalis has reserved overall judgment on the University’s request.
Instead, the Capital Investment Committee chairman said he wants the money spread geographically and across state agencies.
Several legislators are skeptical whether this is the best time to undertake large construction projects. With the strong economy, construction costs will be at a premium, said Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls. Many construction companies are rebuilding flood damaged property in the state, driving up competition and cost.
Regent selection
Legislators could shake up the composition of the University’s main governing body by altering its election process.
Last session, eight bills were submitted to revise the regent selection process. Several proposed eliminating the student regent position.
Under existing laws, the University has 12 regents — one from each of eight districts and four elected at-large. One seat is reserved for a student. Unofficially, one at-large seat represents labor and one agriculture.
The alumni association noticed a decrease in the number of applicants for regent positions, from 150 in 1989 to about 90 in 1996. One potential reason for the decline is the lengthy lobbying process, said Les Heen, a legislative coordinator for the alumni association.
In order to boost applicant numbers, the association recommends eliminating all constituency-based seats. Therefore, candidates for each position could be drawn from a state-wide pool.
However, removing constituency seats would also eliminate student, labor and agriculture seats.
Although student representatives would still have an advisory role, some argue the student regent position is essential.
“Who has a more invested interest in the University than the students?” asked Jessica Phillips, who currently holds the student regent position.
Pell/state grants
Lawmakers could ease the financial burden on students by freeing up more federally approved aid money.
Congress appropriated more money to Pell Grants, totalling a $13.5 million increase for Minnesota. Legislators will decide if students see any of that money in the 1998 fiscal year.
The Federal Pell Grant and State Grant funds are linked, so if the Pell Grant money remains stable, spending on the State Grant increases. This design ensures that grant money increases with education costs, even when federal grant money stays stagnant.
This also allows the state to decrease grant spending when the federal amount goes up, unless the state votes to reinvest that money into grant funds.