U braces to ask state for funds

The 2006 bonding bill request is a marked increase from last year’s $158 million request.

Than Tibbetts

For the third year in a row, the University is gearing up to make its case to the state for a bonding bill.

The Board of Regents likely will approve the 2006 capital bonding request today at its meeting.

If approved as is, the $206 million request would pay for a $40 million expansion at the Carlson School of Management, a $62 million student services and science demonstration classroom building and a $60 million medical research building.

The University will make its third consecutive request at the Legislature because state lawmakers were unable to pass a bonding bill in 2004. Bonding bills usually are heard at the state Capitol every other year.

The 2006 request is a marked increase from last year’s $158 million request, and the trend looks to continue. University President Bob Bruininks is recommending the University seek more than $190 million from the state in 2008 and 2010.

Several regents said they were concerned about the request at the state Legislature because the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funds have become a target for cuts. HEAPR money is used to repair and maintain existing buildings at all of the University’s campuses.

The University requested $90 million in HEAPR funds last year, but received only $40 million after the governor inked the bill.

University officials will request $80 million this year.

Regent David Larson said the University is not able to preserve its buildings effectively.

“A lot of those buildings are worth a tremendous amount of money and letting them fall into serious disrepair is not very smart,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re going to get a little relief this year.”

Regent Steven Hunter said HEAPR may be a target because some legislators would rather see new buildings or temporary solutions to aging facilities.

“It will be challenging to get the Legislature to fund everything,” he said.

Regent Peter Bell said it is important to balance a responsible request to the Legislature with working to satisfy the needs of the University.

“You have to have credibility with the Legislature,” he said. “You have to realize there is literally an inexhaustible claim on the public purse.”

It might be tempting to ask for more money, he said, but the University needs to look at its priorities.

“These things – as you would anticipate – are more art than science. What you really start with are what your needs are,” he said. “There is a direct relationship between the quality of life that we enjoy in Minnesota and having a vibrant University of Minnesota. We have to continue to make that case.”

The board will also look over several real estate transactions.

The regents will likely approve the purchase of space in a building in Rochester for the partnership between the University and Mayo Clinic that was mandated by this year’s higher education bill.

Regents will also review the purchase of nearly 9 acres of land near the transitway.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said the campus will inevitably be expanded onto that land, whether it’s related to the proposed on-campus stadium, roadways or new academic buildings.