Senate doubles Ventura’s proposal

Megan Boldt

Despite the Senate Higher Education Committee’s recommendation to almost double Gov. Jesse Ventura’s funding proposal for the University on Tuesday, University officials still aren’t happy.
Of the $134.3 million the University requested in its 2000 capital budget, the Senate proposed funding for $99.2 million. Ventura proposed to fund only $54 million.
After a unanimous vote, the bill was passed to the Senate education finance committee. A final decision won’t be made until the end of April.
Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, said the bill shows the committee is serious about funding higher education in an appropriate manner.
“We have a lot of buildings to take care of, and that’s our top priority,” Wiener said.
Besides dollar amounts, the Senate and Ventura’s proposals differ in other ways — specifically on University building projects.
“We funded the art building,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls and chairman of the higher education committee. “We also funded projects in greater Minnesota, whereas the governor was very metro-sited.”
Even with the significant differences, University officials are not pleased with how the Senate’s proposal was presented.
Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer, said it was “baffling” the way Senate officials presented the figures. The Senate’s figure appeared to fund two-thirds of the University’s costs, when in reality the total funding was only 50 percent, Pfutzenreuter said.
The two-thirds requirement was an agreement created two years ago between the state and the University. For capital projects, the University would come up with one-third of the money, while the state would fund two-thirds.
“(Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) got a one-third/two-thirds on its projects,” Pfutzenreuter said. “(The University’s) is a 50/50 deal.”
Pfutzenreuter added many of the members he spoke to were unaware of the gap in funding at first.
Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said it looked like the University was more than fulfilling its commitment.
“I think its an issue of the quality of treatment between the University and MnSCU,” Kelley said.
Miscommunication between the Legislature and the University have led to different interpretations of the agreement, Stumpf said.
From his understanding, he said, this requirement is on a project-by-project basis. University officials said it is based on total funding.
Discussion about the issue will be ongoing, Stumpf said.
“This is something we will need to sit down and discuss with the University,” he said.
Pfutzenreuter did not know what action the University would take from here.
“I really have to go back and talk to (University President Mark Yudof),” he said. “It’s not good news.”
The Senate committee also structured its proposals differently than the House Higher Education Committee by appropriating funds for each project.
The House passed the bill to its finance committee, essentially fully funding all of the University’s 10 projects by not assigning dollar amounts to each.
Stumpf said in the past the House’s procedure has caused many projects to get cut in later committees.
“What you see today in the Senate’s bill is hopefully what you’ll see in the end,” Stumpf said.

Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.