State passes final U budget

Kari Petrie

After months of debate, the Legislature agreed on a higher education bill giving the University $1.1 billion for the next two years, its lowest biennium budget since 1998.

University officials said the cuts will result in tuition increases, staff layoffs and employee wage freezes.

The Legislature allotted the University $1.1 billion for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years, almost $13 million more than Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommended in February. Still, the funding is $195 million less than the previous biennium’s. Pawlenty is expected to sign the bill this week.

“We’re obviously disappointed to take such deep cuts in the University’s budget,” University President Bob Bruininks said. “But we’re also pleased that the House and Senate found some additional funding to reduce the level of cuts at the University.”

The University will use the additional $13 million to create merit- and need-based

scholarships and help ease budget reductions in other areas, Bruininks said.

The University has spent several months planning for the cuts based on the governor’s recommendation.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said a one-year wage freeze and increased health care premiums for University employees will make up for a large part of the cuts.

“Those two elements are pretty substantial solutions to the budget,” he said.

Any wage freeze would need to be negotiated with unions, Pfutzenreuter said.

Tuition will go up 14.8 percent for the 2003-04 school year and an additional 13 percent for 2004-05. The increases will account for 50 percent of the cuts, Pfutzenreuter said.

University officials said they cannot speculate on the final number of future layoffs, but have been preparing for employee cuts.

Recent funding decreases have resulted in 520 eliminated positions at the University, said Carol Carrier, vice president for human resources. She said of those positions, 320 resulted from layoffs, which affected administrative and academic professionals, staff and civil services workers, such as accountants and scientists.

The remaining 200 open positions are from unfilled faculty and administrative spots.

Facilities Management spokeswoman Jen Rowe said her department alone eliminated 104 positions, including 63 layoffs.

Bonding bill

A joint legislative committee agreed early Sunday morning on a $209 million capital bonding bill including some of the University building projects vetoed last year by former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

The bill includes $24 million for the University’s Translational Research Facility, a building that would allow researchers to collaborate with physicians completing clinical work.

Donna Peterson, associate vice president for University Relations, said she last spoke to legislators Saturday and they said they were expecting to include the six University projects vetoed last year by Ventura. She added that the committee’s goal was to have the Legislature approve the bill Tuesday.

The University’s capital request also included $8 million for Jones Hall renovations and $3 million to construct the Teaching and Technology Center.

The University prioritizes the capital projects based on safety concerns, academic need and what service the building will provide to the community, Bruininks said.

Peterson said the Translational Research Facility was a priority because the University has lined up $12.3 million in private funding that it doesn’t want to lose.

– Branden Peterson contributed to this report.

Kari Petrie covers Board of Regents and administration. She welcomes comments at [email protected]